November 19, 2018

Rosner’s Torah Talk: Five Rabbis on Yom Kippur



Today, we gathered for you the five Torah Talks that we have in our archives on Yom Kippur.

And don’t forget to read the thought provoking article about Yom Kippur on bicycle.





Rabbi Arie Folger, Vienna, Austria



Rabbi Burt Visotsky, New York



Rabbi Meir Azari, Israel



Rabbi David Gelfand, New York



Rabbi Walter Homolka, Germany






Why I celebrate on a day of mourning

The sovereignty of the Judean kingdom in the land of Israel came to an abrupt end with the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the leading citizens to Babylon in 586 B.C.E.

Just over 2600 years ago, Babylonian armies destroyed the holy temple in Jerusalem, ransacked the ancient Kingdom of Judah, murdered scores of people throughout the kingdom (known as “Jews” – ie, the people of Judah), and hauled off scores more as captives, to the land of Babylon.

Fifteen years ago, around this very day, I stood on the edge of the land that once was a small city in that ancient Kingdom of Judah – on the exact spot where the city guard looked from his tower into the distance and saw flames of light extinguishing in surrounding towns. The ensuing darkness signaled that the Babylonians were approaching and the end was near.

A chill went through my spine.

While the rest of the people on the tour continued walking around the ancient city ruins, I stayed glued to that spot, feeling the warm breeze on my face, looking out into the expansive distance, imagining the terror that must have shot through the city people as they awaited their fates.

Their end was my beginning: the beginning of an exiled people in Babylon, who over the millennia transformed into a thriving, vibrant community — writing the authoritative Babylonian Talmud, launching the first ever Jewish learning institutions (yeshiboth, commonly known as yeshivas), and otherwise developing a rich and unique culture full of stories, music, language, spiritual teachings, architecture, prayers, dance, scholarly works, art, and religious rituals.

After nearly three millennia, my ancestors were sent packing once again: In 1950, my family was among the 100,000 Jewish refugees from Baghdad alone – forced to flee after a surge of anti-Jewish violence throughout the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these refugees, including my family, were absorbed by the modern state of Israel. As in hokey-pokey style: One foot in, one foot out.

While my grandparents, six aunts and one surviving uncle remained in Israel, my father continued his migration to Massachusetts, where he chose to go to graduate school.  There he met my mother, who had been on her way to New York from Colorado. When she’d gotten to the Massachusetts/New York fork in the interstate, however, she spontaneously decided to go north instead.

Together, they raised my sister and me as headstrong Iraqi Jews in Canada and California — teaching us the songs, prayers, religious rituals, food, personal and communal stories, Hebrew pronunciation, and a little of the language of Iraqi Jews.  (I can say the most important things in Judeo- Arabic: “watermelon,” “barefoot,” “hammer,” and “my stomach hurts.”)

I went on to disseminate this knowledge across the world, over the course of two decades, as part of my ground-breaking Jewish multicultural work. Still, as tirelessly as I worked, I could not re-create Jewish life in Baghdad. I was unable to undo the violence and destruction that Iraqi Jews had faced. I was unable to bring back everything that was lost in the upheaval and uprooting. I was unable, in short, to resurrect the Iraqi Jewish community — to bring it back to life as it once was, in bold Technicolor.

What’s worse, over the past few decades, those who grew up in Iraq have been growing old and dying. Meanwhile I have been isolated from so many of these people, for a number of complex reasons. I am an exile within a family and community of exiles. So where does that leave me?  Who am I?  And who will I be when the older generation passes?

Throughout the Jewish community around the world, thsa b’ab is a memorial day — a day of fasting, prayer, and commemoration.  It is a dark day, when people read paradoxically depressing yet triumphant stories about Jews who chose death over forced conversion, even when they had to watch their own children be killed before them. Today is also considered a day of terrible luck, replete with trembling fear, because the temple was destroyed not once, but twice on this day (the second time by the Romans, 656 years later).

I always have struggled with what exactly to do on this day. We are guided to actively induce a sense of grief and despair, so as to honor those before us and to remember being cast from freedom in our own land to captivity in someone else’s. But how, I wondered as a 14 year old in San Francisco, was I to do that, and what use was it anyhow? Actively feeling miserable and scared of moving all day long, because lordy knows what might go wrong next?

About a decade ago, I read an article by someone who suggested that this day actually should be one of celebration and honor: Yes, the temple was destroyed. Yes the kingdom was ransacked. Yes the people were hauled off as exiles. But look what’s come of it: vibrant Jewish life around the world, with the Babylonian exile reaching the far corners of the Middle East, North Africa, and Central, East, and South Asia, and the Roman exile stretching across all of Europe and the Americas.

As a Jewish multicultural educator, that spin resonated with me. Plus it was just so positive, so full of life and the pulsing rhythm of eternal change and transformation. It celebrated Jewish resilience and creativity and adaptation as a people, always surviving, always thriving, always pushing forward into new horizons.

And so, I realized, it is with me personally: Iraqi Jewish life is now gone, as Judean Jewish life once was gone as well. What stands in its place, in my shoes, is a vibrant, creative, pulsating mix of East and West, old school and cutting-edge, religious and secular, traditional and feminist. I express this mashup of perspectives by writing original songs for my band, Iraqis in Pajamas, which fuses punk rock with Iraqi Jewish prayers – making me a living, breathing, invigorating 21st century incarnation of all who came before me. Just like my Jewish ancestors on the rivers of Babylon, I am the beginning of something new.

And that is cause for celebration.

For two decades, Loolwa Khazzoom served as a pioneering Jewish multicultural educator, offering programs worldwide and publishing books and articles teaching about global Jewish heritage. She now channels her Jewish multicultural passion into her all-originals band, Iraqis in Pajamas, for which she is the singer, songwriter, and bass player.

Rabbis should aim higher than politics

We’ve all become obsessed with politics. Politics now colors every aspect of culture, including our personal lives. It colors how we see friendships, how we judge each other, how we judge ourselves.

So, naturally, it’s tempting for rabbis to follow suit and inject politics into their Shabbat sermons. The problem is that politics also has become ugly and divisive. That ugliness and divisiveness consumes us all week, assaulting our email inboxes and Twitter and Facebook feeds.

When I come to synagogue on Shabbat, do I really need to be reminded of all that ugly and divisive stuff? Or do I need spiritual nourishment to help me rise above it and get to a deeper place?

As much as we can try to make politics holy, the reality is that politics is inherently divisive. That’s because we always will disagree about how best to use the power to govern.

If a rabbi, for example, speaks against illegal immigration because it violates the “Jewish value” of honoring the law of the land, what will he or she have accomplished except trigger a congregational food fight? Liberal congregants are sure to scream about other Jewish values such as “caring for the stranger,” and then the gloves are off.

It’s my Jewish value against your Jewish value.

Keeping politics off the pulpit doesn’t mean shutting off the synagogue from the outside world. Rather, it means filtering that world through a spiritual and unifying lens. When my rabbi spoke after the Bernie Madoff scandal, he unified us with his electrifying talk on Jewish ethics. When Jews were murdered brutally in suicide bombings in Israel, he helped us grieve and talked about defending ourselves with strength but without hatred.

He wasn’t picking sides on political choices.

A rabbi can light up our compassion and our humanity without introducing politics. If the issue is the homeless, for instance, the rabbi can inspire us to open our hearts and not ignore their plight.

As soon as the rabbi starts endorsing a certain proposition against homelessness, however, that’s when it becomes divisive. Why? Because well-meaning people will disagree about how best to address the problem, and some congregants may even be upset that the rabbi did not present “the other side.”

But here’s the good news: A synagogue is not just a place for sermons, it’s also a place for debate. So, during the week, any synagogue can host a lively discussion on any number of controversial issues, including how best to fight homelessness. People can bring their own ideas and argue it out.

That debate is perfectly appropriate for a Tuesday night. But for Shabbat? I don’t think so.

Shabbat is about the sanctity of separation. It’s about tasting eternity. It’s an opportunity to experience our unity with God, with one  another and with humanity. From their pulpits, rabbis ought to help us taste that unity and that eternity. That’s hard to do when the topic is the latest political controversy in Congress.

As Rabbi David Wolpe wrote recently in the Journal, “All we hear all day long is politics. Can we not come to shul for something different, something deeper?” That something deeper also means something more uplifting and unifying.

For the past few years, political controversies have torn our community apart. Families have been divided, friendships have been strained, Shabbat table conversations have been poisoned. If anything, rabbis ought to use their pulpits to help us heal from those wounds.

Rather than remind us of our political divisions, which we experience all week, spiritual leaders ought to challenge us to look for the validity and the humanity in those with whom we sharply disagree. Of course, that can be difficult, but isn’t that when rabbis earn their keep — when they help us do the difficult?

It’s easy to talk about changing the world; it’s a lot harder to talk about changing ourselves. It’s easy to rail against a politician to a congregation that already despises him; it’s a lot harder to inspire that congregation to transcend their contempt for a higher ideal.

Politics will never make us more humble. It can consume us, but it will never unite us. Politics is not there to inspire us to become better parents, better children and better friends. But when I come to hear my rabbi speak on Shabbat, that is precisely what I’m looking for.

How one Tulsa synagogue is baking its way to a better world

Walk into Congregation B’nai Emunah on any Tuesday afternoon and you’ll barely get through the massive, light-filled foyer before it hits you: an aromatic wave of warm oatmeal and raisins, or perhaps a sweet surge of rich, melting chocolate chips.

What you’re smelling isn’t catered food for a bar mitzvah bash. Rather it’s one of the most highly regarded bakeries in the region, which is also an innovative social justice project that might just be a model for civic-minded synagogues everywhere.

The Altamont Bakery, which operates weekly from the synagogue’s dairy kitchen, is a successful commercial enterprise in which formerly homeless and mentally ill Tulsans work alongside synagogue volunteers. Together they weigh, measure, mix, shape and bake artisanal cookies that have won the admiration of foodies, selling briskly in coffee shops and cafeterias across Oklahoma and beyond.

Yet whether you believe this is the “Greatest Cookie on Planet Earth” (as the label boasts) or merely the best chocolate chip cookie in the city (according to a blind taste test conducted by the Tulsa World newspaper), it’s not the most important thing the Altamont endeavors to create.

“We are baking our way to a better world,” said Rabbi Marc Boone Fitzerman, who has served the Conservative congregation since 1985.

Fitzerman developed the idea for the bakery five years ago in conjunction with the Mental Health Association Oklahoma, which aids those facing mental-health challenges through advocacy, education, research, service and housing, and the Housing Faith Alliance, which facilitates connections between faith-based institutions and those in recovery from mental illness.

The core of the baking staff is made up of individuals served by the Mental Health Association, including some who live at the nearby association-run Altamont Apartments, from which the bakery takes its name. They are paid what Fitzerman calls “a dignified wage”— currently as much as $13.75 per hour.

The synagogue volunteers they work beside see this as a meaningful opportunity to effect change in their community while broadening their own horizons.

Kimberly Ferry, who had endured years of homelessness and mental health struggles, working at the Altamont Bakery in Tulsa. (Courtesy of Congregation B’nai Emunah)

“I love this collaboration — it’s really unique and powerful,” said Alex Aguilar, a workforce readiness clinical coordinator at the Mental Health Alliance who’s at the bakery every Tuesday. “When we’re able to give someone employment and support — skills and purpose and something to do with their lives — that is the best care that they need.”

Mental health has long been a focus of the synagogue’s volunteer efforts, Fitzerman said, due in part to the significant number of congregants already working in the field.

The rabbi realized he could feed the appetite for social justice work through one of his synagogue’s particular strengths: large-scale baking.

“Like many congregations in frontier outposts, we make everything ourselves — rye bread, rugelach, hamantaschen, apple cake, babka — it’s a very full menu of traditional favorites,” he said.

With Tulsa’s Jewish community numbering about 2,200, the Altamont is the only kosher-certified bakery in town. The synagogue also recently launched a monthly pop-up deli serving house-cured kosher pastrami.

“This is more than dabbling,” Fitzerman declared. “Brooklyn artisans would recognize our seriousness and commitment.”

On a typical Tuesday afternoon, six salaried “Altamonters” and another half-dozen volunteers will produce about 1,200 cookies, which will be bagged, labeled and delivered by another multi-generational cadre of volunteers that meets Wednesday mornings. Unsold leftovers — a rare phenomenon — might wind up at Shabbat kiddish.

Come Christmas and Hanukkah — when orders for 5,000 or more aren’t uncommon — the bakery will more than triple its workforce and production. And next March, when the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament returns to Tulsa, demand will likely drive madness in the kitchen, as well.

Nancy Cohen, a former marketing and retail manager who also oversees the synagogue gift shop, is “the presiding genius” of the bakery, Fitzerman says, serving as volunteer director and, until recently, oven master. She is the source of the chocolate-chip cookie recipe that started it all, as well as the two that followed, oatmeal raisin and the newest offering, sweet “sugartops,” with just a hint of lemon. (Incidentally, these are no little noshes, but quarter-pound helpings of richness.)

Cohen is equally passionate about the bakery staff.

“This is our sugar-cookie queen,” Cohen said, introducing Kimberlee Koenig, an Altamonter who was loading the last ingredients into a massive mixer.

“If they’re not perfect, we don’t sell ’em,” Koenig said, detailing her process. “We don’t even put our name on ’em.”

Koenig explains bluntly how much that sense of pride means: “You see, I used to be a street person. Not by choice … but by bad choices, mostly of men.”

Now happily married, she found the bakery two years ago and has only missed work two times — once due to pneumonia, the other following hernia surgery.

“You’ve come a long way, baby,” Cohen said.

Kimberly Ferry has worked in the bakery from its beginning. Cohen remembers that first day — Ferry, following years of homelessness and mental health struggles, had trouble looking her in the eye. Now, between Tuesdays at Altamont and another job at a grocery store, she can afford her own apartment — and to buy her 13-year-old son a new pair of shoes.

“I hadn’t bought him anything in a long time,” Ferry said, lips curling into a smile.

The synagogue volunteers baking alongside the Altamonters say the impact on their lives has also been profound.

“I love it — I love the people we work with,” gushed Jamie Siegel, a mother of four. “It’s the one thing in my week that I really couldn’t give up. I really feel like I’m getting more out of it than I’m giving.”

Dennis Johnson, a retired project manager, was active in a weekly Torah study at the synagogue when he first heard about Altamont. That was a year-and-a-half ago, and he hasn’t missed a Tuesday since.

“As long I’m able and as long as they need me, I’ll be here,” he said. “It’s a good mitzvah.”

Since its inception in 2011, the bakery has sold more than 150,000 cookies, at $2 each. The profits cover salaries and supplies; the synagogue underwrites the use of the kitchen and Fitzerman raises outside funds to replace equipment and make capital improvements. Anonymous donors furnished two new high-end ovens that can bake up to 220 cookies in 14 minutes.

Karra Beck, left, works at Altamont every week, and Mary Nixon is a former employee. (Courtesy of Congregation B’nai Emunah)

For the second consecutive year, the Altamont has been recognized by Slingshot, a fund that supports and promotes innovative Jewish initiatives across the country.

“This type of collaborative endeavor serves as a model for successful partnerships between religious institutions and government agencies,” the evaluation reads, “and shows how the repurposing of synagogue assets can impact an entire community.”

The Altamont Bakery hopes to see its impact grow both in Tulsa, by increasing sales and adding more shifts and workers as the kitchen schedule allows — B’nai Emunah’s 150-student preschool also uses the kitchen — and beyond. Synagogue administrator Betty Lehman said she recently fielded a call from a congregation in Indiana that was interested in launching its own program.

Even the product line is expanding. Cohen has been furiously fine-tuning a “centennial cookie” to be introduced this year, celebrating the synagogue’s 100th anniversary. After testing nearly 20 formulas, she’ll reveal only that it will likely be a version of “double fudge.”

Fitzerman is thrilled, but cautions his model is not easy magic.

“In our initial flood of arrogant do-gooderism, we felt that we would be able to change the lives of our bakers,” the rabbi said. “We’ve held some of them in this project for four consecutive years, but many more have moved through the kitchen for a short period and then wander on to other things.

“We understand that we will fail as often as we succeed. Our goal is to do as much as we can without expecting miraculous transformation.”

Yet for bakers like Koenig, the change is evident. Through the bakery, she has developed confidence and strong friendships, broadened her social network and gotten her foot in the door at a local supermarket, where she now also earns a wage as a cashier and bagger.

But working in the “cookie factory,” Koenig said, is still “the best job.”

“I’ve been very fortunate — God has blessed me,” she added, as the mixer began to whir. “And the cookies are amazing.”

The problem with prayer

If the practice of Judaism is based on synagogue attendance, and if synagogue attendance is based on the passive recitation of prayer, then Judaism is in trouble.

The ritual of repetitive communal prayer might have worked in the shtetls to keep Jews Jewish, but it doesn’t work in today’s America.

For many Jews — especially the nonobservant — the very act of prayer can seem odd. What am I praying for? Does God really owe me anything more than all the blessings I already have and take for granted? And if I decide to pray for something — like being healthy — am I not better off going to the gym and watching what I eat? 

Prayer, in fact, might be the most problematic point of entry into Judaism. Why should people waste their time doing something they don’t really understand and don’t believe will benefit them?

Synagogues sense this. That’s one reason they put so much emphasis on the value of community. Becoming a member of a synagogue means belonging to an extended “family” that will provide you with a network of support and friendships, rabbinic assistance for lifecycle events, High Holy Days privileges, special classes and programs, and so on.

Synagogues depend on membership dues to survive. That’s why this time of year is so critical, when people make decisions about whether to renew their memberships for the coming year.

This traditional synagogue model will not — and cannot — go away any time soon. But if the Jewish world is looking for a breakthrough to attract the unaffiliated, the disconnected and the disenchanted, they’d do well to take this old model and experiment with some meaningful upgrades.

A good place to start would be to redefine prayer so that it can stand on its own.

A lot of promising work has been done in this area in synagogues across the country. One particular example can be found in the spiritual communities — such as IKAR, Nashuva and the Carlebach minyans — where prayer services share an almost tribal quality, with melodies and communal chanting that simply elevate you.

But one prayer method that I feel doesn’t get enough attention and that I find especially promising is the notion of following a “prayer narrative.” This method is more introspective, allowing a prayer service to become a personal spiritual journey that keeps you connected from beginning to end.

I ran this notion last year by my friend Rabbi Yoel Glick, a spiritual teacher who lives in the south of France and runs the Web site Daat Elyon. He was intrigued enough to write up an insightful “seven-step spiritual journey” for the Shabbat morning prayer service.

This seven-step guide doesn’t change the actual prayers, it simply frames them in a way that injects deep personal meaning. 

Each prayer section offers a theme that connects to the next one. The first three build up to the climax — the Shema — while the last three are the denouement.

Glick themes the seven steps as follows: “Awareness,” “Gratitude and Appreciation,” “Recognition of God and the Good,” “Affirmation — Light and Love,” “Communion,” “Contemplation” and, finally, “Tikkun Olam and Oneness.”

For each theme, Glick includes spiritual insights around which to meditate as you pray. For example, in the first phase (“Awareness”), you meditate around “a series of blessings constructed to make us conscious of the extraordinary blessing of being a living, breathing, self-aware human being.”

The journey takes effort and concentration, but the idea is that by the end of the service, you will come out more spiritually alive and more connected to Godliness, as well as to your own unique purpose in life.

The prayer guide is like a spiritual workout. Just as a personal trainer guides you to work out different parts of your body, Glick guides you to work out different parts of your soul and humanity.

It’s hard to imagine how this personal and introspective approach — which anyone can apply to any style of prayer service — would not be an improvement over passively reciting arcane prayers many of us don’t even understand.

The best part for me, though, is that Glick offers a meaningful response to a question modern Judaism must urgently answer: “What do I gain from Judaism?”

We needn’t be offended by that question. It’s just reality — in today’s world, Judaism will succeed only if it can offer something real and meaningful.

Redefining prayer in more personal and meaningful ways is a crucial ingredient if we want to attract the millions of Jews who prefer spending their Saturday mornings anywhere but at a house of prayer.

With seven weeks to go before the big crowds show up for their annual High Holy Days pilgrimage, spiritual leaders ought to be thinking about their own ways of making their prayer services even more meaningful. 

Simply put, people are more likely to come back to pray during the year if they feel the experience is something that will improve their lives, spiritually or otherwise. 

I look at it this way: If people come out of a gym feeling like a million bucks, why can’t they feel as good coming out of a prayer service?

Isn’t God more powerful than LA Fitness?

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

A Lamentation on the Destruction of the Temple

1.  The absence of Presence
The Romans are approaching. We wallow in callous pettiness. The city will fall soon.

2. The presence of Absence
They are despoiling the sanctuary. We wail in piteous grief. Sun and moon are eclipsed. Horror.

3. The presence of Presence
It’s all over now. The dew washes clean our punished world. A lilac is blooming.

Copyright © 2013, Jonathan Omer-Man. For more, visit

Security guard kills Jewish man near Western Wall

A security guard shot dead a 46-year-old Jewish man whom he mistook for a terrorist near the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

The guard, a civilian employed by a private company, said the man had shouted “Allah hu akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) and tried to extract an object from his pocket before the security guard fired his sidearm Friday morning, Army Radio reported.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the guard opened fire with his pistol because he suspected the man was a terrorist.

The 46-year-old man, who reportedly has no family in Israel and who was not identified by name, died 20 minutes later as paramedics were trying to stabilize him and treat his multiple gunshot wounds. He was the only person hit in the incident.

A man who knew the victim and was present during the shooting told Army Radio the man came to the Western Wall nearly every day and was a volunteer cook for the Chabad movement.

“I don’t understand why they shot him. Everybody knows him around here but he was alone because his family is in France,” said the man, whose name Army Radio did not reveal.

The interviewee also told Army Radio that the deceased was “very frustrated with the establishment.”

Purim event calendar 2013


FRI | FEB 22

A three-day carnival includes rides, food, games and a kids’ zone. Fri. Through Feb 24. Presale: $17 (20 tickets), $35 (Friday wristband), $25 (Saturday wristband), $45 (Sunday wristband); day-of prices: $1.25 (per-ride ticket), $20 (20-ride tickets), $40 (50-ride tickets, Friday wristband, Saturday wristband), $50 (Sunday wristband). Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

SAT | FEB 23

University Synagogue’s carnival features Moe Deli and Canter’s food trucks, games, rides, prizes and more. Fun for kids and adults alike. Sat. 5-9 p.m. $20 (presale), $25 (door). University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255.

Join Kehillat Ma’arav for a megillah reading, raffle, dinner, costume parade, a game of “Hamen’s Hollywood Squares” and more. Sat. 6 p.m. Free. Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. (310) 829-0566.

Beth Chayim Chadashim’s Purim bash features musical performances by mystery celebrity guests, a multilingual reading of the megillah, multimedia storytelling of the book of Esther and a sing-along. Sat. 6 p.m. (bring your dinner), 6:30-7 p.m. (children’s festivities), 7 p.m. (Havdalah, “Shushan Idol” and megillah reading). Free. Beth Chayim Chadashim, 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023.

The progressive congregation stages a megillah rock opera. Sat. 6:30 p.m. Free. Location TBD.

Sinai Temple’s Purim-themed sendup of the annual music awards show features Sinai staff and students doing impersonations of the some of biggest pop stars, including Taylor Swift, Cee Lo Green, Rihanna, Maroon 5 and Carly Rae Jepsen. Traditional megillah reading follows. Sat. 6:30 p.m. (Havdalah and show). Free. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 474-1518.

Games, rides, prizes and other entertainment highlight the Conservative synagogue’s carnival. Sat. 6:30 p.m. $10 (member, presale), $14 (members, door), $15 (general, presale), $20 (general, door). Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, 10500 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-7000.

Congregation Kol Ami’s Purim spiel is a classic tale of love, politics and the Academy Awards. Sat. 7-10 p.m. Free. Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., West Hollywood. (323) 606-0996.

Shomrei Torah’s Oscar-themed Purim spiel and party features live music and entertainment, clips from the best picture nominees, photo opportunities and more. Walk the red carpet in your Esther’s best. Sat. 7:30 p.m. Free. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 346-0811.

Games and prizes, a costume contest, dancing, a dunk tank, food, moon bounce, music and rock climbing highlight the Orthodox synagogue’s Purim carnival. Sat. 7:30 p.m. (immediately after a megillah reading). Free entry. Beth Jacob Congregation, 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 795-3857.

Larger Than Life, a charity dedicated to improving the lives of children who have cancer, celebrates Purim — and its 10th anniversary — with food, drinks, a costume contest and surprises. DJ Eyal spins. Sat. 8 p.m. $85. Unici Casa Gallery, 9461 Jefferson Blvd., Culver City. (818) 887-7640.

Aliyah’s Purim carnival, which lasts two days this year, features a battle-of-the-bands for middle school and high school students — the winning band gets four hours of studio recording time — rides, games and more. Sat. 8-11 p.m. (battle-of-the-bands), Sun. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Presale: $65 (unlimited all-day ride bracelet — Saturday and Sunday), $40 (unlimited all-day ride bracelet — Saturday night only), $45 (unlimited all-day ride bracelet — Sunday only). Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 346-3545.

SUN | FEB 24

Join progressive congregation IKAR for family-friendly fun and activities. Sun. 10 a.m. $15 (members), $20 (general). Adult admission included. IKAR, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s religious school’s carnival features food, arts and crafts, a bake sale, a Candyland zone and more. Sun. 10 a.m. $55 (wristband, presale), $65 (wristband, door). Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 388-2401.

A petting zoo, video game stations, food, games, prizes and a silent auction highlight the Culver City synagogue’s carnival. Sun. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. $10 (24 tickets, presale). Temple Akiba, 5249 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City. (310) 398-5783.

Valley Beth Shalom’s Purim carnival features games, prizes, attractions and food. All proceeds benefit VBS Israel programs and summer camp financial aid. Sun. 10 a.m-3 p.m. Free entry. Valley Beth Shalom, Ventura parking lot, Malkin-Burdorf Hall and Glaser Hall. (818) 788-6000.

Rides, games, food and more highlight Shomrei Torah Synagogue’s carnival and street fair. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Pre-sale: $70 (family fun pack), $25 (wristband), $18 (20 tickets). Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 346-0811.

Rides, food, a raffle and more highlight what is one of the Reform synagogue’s largest fundraisers and most popular volunteer days. Sun. 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. $36 (presale). Adult admission is free, but scrip must be purchased for food, rides and games. Stephen S. Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 889-2300.

A moon bounce, snow cones, dunk tank, face painting, bake sale and games highlight the Santa Monica congregation’s Purim carnival. Sun. 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Free entry. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.

Live music, hamantashen, games, prizes and more highlight Leo Baeck’s spiel and carnival. Sun. 11 a.m. Free entry. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

Pinkberry, In-N-Out Burger, Sprinkles Cupcakes — these are just some of the food choices at Emanuel’s annual Purim carnival. Other highlights include the Aquarium of the Pacific on wheels, a “Diva Makeover” station, an inflatable rock hall and more. Rain or shine. Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Presale: $100 (120 tickets), $75 (90 tickets), $50 (60 tickets). Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, Steinbaum Burton Way Building, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (818) 849-5737.

Activities for all ages highlight the Hollywood synagogue’s carnival. Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Presale: $100 (135 tickets), $75 (100 tickets), $50 (67 tickets), $25 (33 tickets). Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.

Temple Ahavat Shalom’s Mardi Gras-style carnival features food trucks, games, rides and more. Includes a wine tasting for adults. Sun. 11 a.m.-3 p.m. $45 (all-inclusive, presale), $50 (all inclusive, day of event). Other pricing options available. Temple Ahavat Shalom, 18200 Rinaldi Place, Northridge. (818) 360-2258.

More than 20 rides, games and attractions highlight Adat Elohim’s Purim bash. Sun. 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. $15 (presale), $20 (door).  Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

TUE | FEB 26

Kehillat Israel’s Purim celebration includes rides, games, food and more. Tue. 4-8 p.m. $30 (wristband, includes free dinner), $10 (game swipe card) $25 (three-game swipe card). Pacific Park, 380 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica. (310) 459-2328.


Rides, games, a magic show and arts and crafts highlight Beth Am’s carnival. The synagogue needs 150 volunteers to run the event. Sun. 11 a.m. $10 (tickets), $50 (wristbands). Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7353.


SAT | FEB 23

Temple Adat Elohim’s party features three magicians (stage, parlor and close-up) from the Magic Castle performing illusions and prestidigitation. Includes live auction, hors d’oeuvres, dessert and no-host bar. Sat. 6 p.m. (hors d’oeuvres and cocktails), 7:30 p.m. (magic show). $50. Temple Adat Elohim, 2420 E. Hillcrest Drive, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-7101.

Valley Ruach’s carnival exclusively for young professionals features an inflatable gladiator joust, arcade basketball, a costume contest, raffle, silent auction, carnival games and open bar with beer, wine and well drinks. Ages 21-39 only. Sat. 6:45 p.m. (megillah reading with Adat Ari El community), 8 p.m. (carnival), 9 p.m. (joust tournament), 9:30 p.m. (basketball tournament). 10:30 p.m. (costume contest). $25 (presale), $30 (door). Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 835-2139.

Bring out the tuxes and gowns to relive that iconic evening, as Leo Baeck Temple’s truly post-adolescent event features music, drinks, hors d’oeuvres, desserts and more.  Sat. 7 p.m. $20. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

Performing a show created exclusively for Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the nationally acclaimed comedy troupe presents improvisations on the story of Esther. For teens and adults only. Sat. 7-8:45 p.m. (Korean barbecue buffet and no-host bar), 7:45-8:45 p.m. (Groundlings Improv show and megillah reading). Free. Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Temple campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (424) 208-8932.

AtidLA’s party for young professionals features a live DJ, food, a costume contest and more. JSpace co-sponsors. Sat. 9 p.m. $18 (advance), $25 (door). Tiato, 2700 Colorado Ave., No. 190, Santa Monica. (310) 481-3244.

Join progressive congregation IKAR for a night of Purim-themed debauchery, with drinks, games and light snacks. Sat. 9 p.m. $20 (members, not including cash bar), $25 (general, not including cash bar). IKAR, 5870 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock throws a party with an open bar, live DJ and dancing until 2 a.m. Hip-hop artist AB SOTO performs. 21 and older. Sat. 9 p.m. $30. Highland Park Mason Building, 104. N. Avenue 56, Los Angeles. (323) 255-5416,

Dust off the polyester, platforms and Jewfros and head down to Steingarten LA, a gourmet beer garden, for a ’70s-themed party. Organized by JConnectLA. 21 and older. Sat. 10 p.m.-2 a.m. (megillah readings at 10:30 p.m., 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 p.m.). $10 (advance), $20 (door). Steingarten L.A., 10543 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 277-5544.

SUN | FEB 24

Celebrate Purim — and the Jewish state — at the Creative Zionist Coalition’s party in Santa Monica. The evening includes an open wine-and-beer bar, hors d’oeuvres, a program honoring pro-Israel bloggers Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, and more. Sun. 5 p.m. (hors d’oeuvres), 6 p.m. (program and dancing). Hotel Shangri-La, 1301 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica.

Ten women arrested at Western Wall for praying with prayer shawls

Ten women participating in a women's prayer service with hundreds of worshippers and supporters at the Western Wall were arrested for wearing prayer shawls.

Those arrested Monday morning included Israeli-American Rabbi Susan Silverman, sister of comedian Sarah Silverman, and her 17-year-old daughter Hallel Abramovitz; Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of the Women of the Wall, who has been arrested several times in recent months; and two U.S. rabbis, Debra Cantor of B'nai Tikvoh-Sholom in Bloomfield, Conn., and Robin Fryer Bodzin of the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in Queens, NY.

The women had gathered at the back of the women's section, as they have at the beginning of every new Jewish month since 1988, for Rosh Chodesh services for the new Jewish month of Adar. It was the largest number of participants for the monthly event since its inception, organizers told Israeli media.

The women were joined on the other side of the mechitza, the barrier which separates the sexes at the Wall, by a number of male supporters, including six former Israel Defense Forces paratroopers who had been among those that liberated the Western Wall during the Six Day War in 1967.  One of the paratroopers was Dr. Yitzhak Yifat of Jerusalem, who is famous as one of the three paratroopers in the iconic photograph of three soldiers standing at the Western Wall shortly after its liberation. Yifat is the middle paratrooper in the photo by David Rubinger.

The arrests reportedly were made at the end of service, after most of the participants and media had left the Western Wall Plaza. Police had stood on the sidelines as the women prayed and then danced in a circle holding their prayer shawls, according to Haaretz.

The women's prayer group moved its Torah reading from the Wall to outside the Old City of Jerusalem police department, where the arrested women were taken.

In 2003, Israel's Supreme Court upheld a government ban on women wearing tefillin or tallit prayer shawls, or reading from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall.

Women participating in the Rosh Chodesh service have been arrested nearly every month since June for wearing prayer shawls or for “disturbing public order.”

Southern California temple is vandalized

A temple in an upscale neighborhood of Long Beach, Calif., was vandalized.

Two-foot tall swastikas and the words “Nazi” were painted in red spray-paint on the front of the Temple Israel building on Monday night. Temple Israel is the oldest Reform synagogue between Los Angeles and San Diego, the Long Beach Post reported.

Long Beach Police Department spokeswoman Nancy Pratt told the newspaper that the incident was being investigated as a hate crime.

The temple had recently completed a yearlong $4.6 million renovation, according to the newspaper.

High Holy Days: The serious side of High Holy Days seating

The philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel emphasized time rather than space as the major category of significance in Judaism. The first divine hallowing in creation was the seventh day, the Sabbath, not any place or thing. When the child asked Menachem Mendel of Kotzk, “Where is God?” he answered, “Whenever you let Him in.” Not “where” but “when,” and not place but time is the locus of godliness. 

But masses of people seem to distrust this spiritual notion of holiness. More time is spent on securing good seats in the sanctuary before Rosh Hashanah than in the preparation of the heart. More energy and passion are spent at board meetings over the allocation of tickets than over any theological issue. The board is sensitive to the “territorial imperative” that grips grown men and women. Reassign the location of a seat and temple membership itself is at stake. 

There is a mystique about where we sit that no single rational explanation can properly fathom. It’s not a matter of seeing or hearing the pulpit celebrants better. It’s not a matter of sitting beneath the air-conditioning vent or under a poorly lit lighting fixture. There’s something magical about where we sit, and especially about changing the seats from last year to this coming one. As the Hebraic proverb has it, meshaneh makom, meshaneh mazal — change the place, change the fortune. 

The disputes over the allocation of seats reached the point that the board members brought the issue to the rabbi. Half-jokingly, they asked him to resolve the raging debates regarding the place distribution of seating. It was a she’elah (inquiry) he had not prepared for but which he knew had deeper roots than psychology or sociology. The issue, in the last analysis, was theological. And the rabbi was the best person to deal with it, for he was above such pettiness. Besides which, his own seat was cushioned, as close to the Ark of Holiness as could be, facing the eastern wall. What is involved here is a theology of space, a struggle between pagan and Judaic attitudes. 

In archaic, pagan religions, there is a phenomenon of “sacred space.” There is a central place where communication can take place between the cosmic planes of heaven and earth. There are places on earth that are closer to divinity than others. Recall the Ziggurats, the towers of Babel, cosmic structures seven stories high, representing the seven planets, which the priests ascended in order to reach the summit of the universe. There is a place where the gods sit. But these are pagan notions of archaic religion. 

For Judaism, God has no such celestial geography, and we recall the awesome fall of those who sought to build the Tower of Babel. Solomon is embarrassed about building the House of God. He senses the crudeness of closeting God in the building space. “Will God indeed dwell on earth? Behold, the heavens cannot contain Thee — how much less the house that I have built?” (I Kings 8:27). 

Where indeed does God reside, or in the language of Hebraic liturgy, “Where is the place of His glory?” The answer is immediate and unequivocal. His glory fills the world. To look for God in a particular place is to commit the spiritual fallacy of simple location. As the rabbis declared, “God is the place of the world, not the world God’s place.” On Sukkot, the lulav is not pointed to any location at the mention of God’s name. It is not only rude to point; toward God it is downright blasphemous.

We Jews don’t ascend to the heights to find God. When the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Who ascends into the mountain of the Lord?” he answers, “He who hath clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully” (Psalms 24:3-4). The place of God is even within, between us. 

“Place” is a visual metaphor, not to be taken literally when applied to God. Godliness is in relationship, not in Row A. God is in morality, not in geography. Is that not what Isaiah declared in the name of God? “Where is the house that ye build unto Me? Where is the place of My rest?” God does not respond to the best tickets in the house, but “to the poor and broken-hearted who is concerned about My word” (Isaiah 66:1-2). 

The issue of seats may well be more important than we have suspected. The preoccupation with seats may reveal a perverse theology, a greater attachment to external, material places than to internal, spiritual experiences. To be nearer to sanctity can never he a matter of place. “The idol is near and yet far. God is far and yet near. For a man enters a synagogue and stands behind a pillar, and prays in a whisper — and God hears his prayer. So it is with all of His creatures. Can there be a nearer God than this? He is as near to His creatures as the ear is to the mouth” (Yerushalmi Berachot 9:1). 

It is a revolutionary idea in the history of religion to find God not in statues, shrines, palaces of marble and stone but in the human spirit. God said to Moses, “In every place where you find a trace of the feet of man, there am I before you.” God is where men and women are in need. God places Himself in the footprints of men and women, not upon the isolated mountain. 

There are fears about limiting God to place, and not simply because it seems to reduce the dignity and power of God. The deification of place leads to dangerous idolatry. The rabbinic imagination in the midrash suggests that the murder of Abel came about because he and his brother Cain both argued that the sanctuary of God should be built on their own exclusive property. Together they owned the earth, but each wanted God’s lodging to be in his own jurisdiction. In our times, the controversy over the place of the temple has led to the bombing of the holy places and threats of jihad. It should remind us that not places, but lives are holy. 

So, what had begun as a half-serious question developed into an earnest answer. What began as a question of seats ended in a question about self. Does the place confer real status upon me? Is location the validation of my significance? Is the best seat in the sanctuary up in front? Is the synagogue theater? Is the bimah the stage? Is the writing in the Book of Life the inscription on the ticket? Is the answer to spirituality space? 

“Master of the Universe — where will I find you, and where will I not find you? … In heaven, Thou art on earth, Thou art wherever I turn, wherever I stir Thou, Thou, Thou.”

Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, one of the best-known pulpit rabbis in America, has been a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom (, a Conservative congregation in Encino, since 1970.

Talmud in Downtown L.A.

Around 2,500 people turned out for the citywide Siyum HaShas celebration at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion Aug. 1. The event marked the completion of the seven-and-a-half year cycle of daily Talmud study known as Daf Yomi.

The program began with Mincha (afternoon prayer) just after 5:30 p.m. and featured several speakers, including Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City. Dayan Aaron Dovid Dunner, a sitting member of the London Beth Din, delivered a main address.

“Everybody can be a Daf Yomi person,” Dunner said. “You find time for business and for pleasure. You can find time for Daf Yomi if you want to.”

Rabbi Mechie Blau served as master of ceremonies and opened the night by congratulating the misayamim, those who had completed the Daf Yomi learning, and pointing out that this year’s Siyum took place in the days following Tisha b’Av, which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples.

“Everyone here deserves to be applauded,” he said. “This celebration shows that we are ready to restore the glory of the beis hamigdash.”

The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion event featured a live digital linkup with a larger celebration at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.Approximately 90,000 men and women attended the New Jersey Siyum.

This year marks the 12th time that Daf Yomi has been completed, dating back to the practice’s Polish inception in 1923.

While the event focused mainly on those who had completed the daily learning cycle, only a minority of those in attendance had actually completed Daf Yomi. Rabbi Baruch Zheutlin, a sixth-grade Talmud teacher at Yeshivat Aharon Yaakov Ohr Eliyahu, said that though he had not completed Daf Yomi, he felt like a part of the celebration for several reasons.

“The Siyum combines two great things: Jewish unity and Torah study,” he said. “And I learn Gemara, so this is my celebration too.”

Zheutlin said he brought his 8-year-old son so that “he could see the honor of so many Jews unifying together.”

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Siyum’s press liaison, said that the impact of the Siyum could be seen as early as the next day when morning Daf Yomi Shiurim took place, beginning the 13th cycle.

“There were a lot of new faces on Thursday,” Adlerstein, who is the director of interfaith affairs at The Simon Wiesenthal Center, said. “Many people saw the majesty of Torah at the Siyum and were inspired.”

The next Siyum HaShas is set to take place early in 2020.

Letters to the Editor: Wilshire Boulevard Temple, world hunger and editorial cartoons

Beyond the Temple’s Walls

The Wilshire Boulevard Temple expansion is going to have many vital impacts, not only for our Jewish community but for the larger Los Angeles community as well (“History Renewed,” Aug. 3). The project obviously is going to make a profound difference to the temple congregation and enrich the lives of its many families for generations to come. In addition, it will create for the greater community a place to meet, to learn and to build bridges. By way of an open door to all in the neighboring community and beyond, the enlarged temple grounds are poised to bring people together, allow the diverse people of Los Angeles to share opportunities, help each other, and come together not in theory, not through leadership-level convocations, but on the ground, people-to-people, program by program.

It is what Jews do so often and so well. We build bridges between communities through our actions, through our belief that tikkun olam embraces everyone, that it is our Jewish responsibility to treat no one as the “other,” to remember that we ourselves were once strangers in a strange land. Wilshire Boulevard Temple is leading this valiant effort, but it is not alone. 

Bet Tzedek sends its lawyers every day into the diverse communities of our city, representing all who are in need. Jewish Family Services and Jewish Vocational Services do the same. A group at Stephen S. Wise Temple has launched a summer Freedom School branch that gives low-income young people from nearby communities a unique educational opportunity. The Breed Street Shul is turning a historic Boyle Heights temple building into a monument to our past and our future as well as an invaluable community center for a largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood in the Shul’s home community. 

In short, through the not-always simple acts of showing up, being present and opening doors, the Jewish community is quietly building bridges, enriching our finest traditions and reaching into our city’s collective futures to build a lasting tapestry of diverse people that honors us all.

David A. Lash
via e-mail

Addressing the world hunger issue

As a volunteer with the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), I want to express my gratitude toward U.S. Representative Howard Berman for standing up for hungry people worldwide and supporting international food aid reform. By signing on to a recent “Dear Colleague” letter to the House Agriculture Committee Leadership, Rep. Berman’s support for a more flexible, cost-efficient and effective food aid delivery system in the next Farm Bill demonstrated crucial leadership in fighting to improve the lives of millions of people.

International humanitarian aid is a profoundly Jewish issue. According to Jewish law, feeding the hungry is not simply a nice thing to do: we are commanded to “leave the corners of your fields” and the “gleanings of your harvest” for “the poor and the stranger.” (Leviticus 19:10). That is why AJWS has made the reform of international food aid its highest legislative priority this year, as part of its worldwide Reverse Hunger campaign.

The United States is the world’s largest food aid donor, yet we currently employ an outdated model that contributes to an average 14-week delivery delay, wastes more than half of every food aid grain dollar and distorts local markets. Rep. Berman’s signature helped move our country toward a better system, one that would include local procurement and the ability to use cash instead of food to pay for program expenses and thus would allow us to reach up to 17 million more people worldwide without costing taxpayers an additional penny.

Although the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act passed by the House Agriculture Committee last week rejected these important food aid reform provisions, the Senate’s bipartisan farm bill included them: Rep. Berman’s actions demonstrated important support for reform in the House as the bill moves toward a conference committee. I urge him to continue to support programs that will help reach more hungry people worldwide.

Jonathan Zasloff
Professor of Law
UCLA School of Law

Cartoon’s Offensive Stereotype

Steve Greenberg’s disgusting July 20 cartoon portraying Orthodox Jews as bloated, obese, non-working, military exempt, separationist Charedim crushing the weight of the Israeli chair, is deeply offensive and demonstrative of the self-hating-Jewish anti-Orthodox animus that permeates The Jewish Journal. The menacing, black, faceless, grotesque Orthodox behemoth threatening Israel’s existence is reminiscent of anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews in Nazi Germany’s Der Stürmer. If the point of Greenberg’s cartoon was to show how the Orthodox population has increased from 400 to tens of thousands, then he could have drawn the second panel of his cartoon of the increased masses. Instead, he stooped to the gutter, and portrayed Torah scholars as caricatures of evil. It is simply shameful.

Baruch Cohen
Los Angeles

Ner Maarav to merge with Ramat Zion

Twenty-five years ago, Temple Ner Maarav in Encino served nearly 450 families. Today, that number has dwindled to 65.

After more than half a century, the Conservative congregation will shut its doors on June 30. Many of its remaining congregants will join with Northridge’s Temple Ramat Zion under a merger plan, and Ner Maarav’s Torahs will be marched to their new North Valley home on July 1.

Uri Grinblat, Ner Maarav’s president, says the constant migration of young families to the Conejo Valley has played a large part in the attrition.

“Over the last 10 years, our number came down as many young families moved to Agoura and Thousand Oaks,” Grinblat said. “Unfortunately, we do not have too many young families around us and naturally, without them, a temple cannot exist.”

Ramat Zion’s membership has held steady at roughly 300 families over the past few years, and the merger is expected to add approximately 50 Ner Maarav families.

Rabbi Ahud Sela of Temple Ramat Zion said he is committed to bonding the two communities into one united congregation.

“We’re thinking of it like a marriage,” Sela said. “In fact, many of the people know each other already. These are friends with deep connections already in place, and it’s really a joyous thing for us to come together.”

Grinblat agreed, “The biggest benefit of merging with Temple Ramat Zion is the formation of a symbiotic relationship. The people at Temple Ramat Zion are extremely nice and similar to our congregants. I feel that it is a good match.”

Ner Maarav held its first service in the Sherman Oaks Women’s Club on July 8, 1955. Founded as Maarav Temple, the congregation broke ground at Magnolia Boulevard and White Oak Avenue in 1956, and completed construction the following year. In the late 1980s, the congregation merged with Temple Ner Tamid of Van Nuys to become Temple Ner Maarav.

In October 2011, Ner Maarav sold its site to Held Properties for $4 million and has been leasing the property since. Held plans to use the site to develop luxury apartments.

Bernie Bubman, past president of Ner Maarav, said he is relieved that memorabilia from Ner Maarav will be displayed at Ramat Zion.

“To have a home for our artifacts, especially our memorial plaques, is of paramount importance to us,” Bubman said.

Jeffrey Stern, president of Ramat Zion, is looking forward to the changes this new chapter will bring.

“On a personal level, the merger has provided an incredible degree of satisfaction to me. People are enthused about the influx of potential members to Temple Ramat Zion, and there is talk of new programs and events,” he said. “I believe all those involved are incredibly positive about the opportunities provided by this merger.”

One of the main goals of the merger is to ensure a Conservative Jewish presence in the northern part of the San Fernando Valley, Stern said. “There can be no hiding from the fact that shuls are having a difficult time retaining existing members and enrolling new ones.”

Although both congregations are looking forward to the merger, the change is bittersweet for the members of Ner Maarav, especially those who have been with the congregation for many decades.

“Perhaps the largest challenge will be in acclimating to a new environment and feeling comfortable in a new setting,” Bubman said. “We are pretty steeped in our ways, and to meld as one family will take a proper mindset and willingness to learn to do things, perhaps differently, than we have in the past. It is always more difficult for the congregation who will be moving to a new location than for the congregation who will be accepting.”

Ner Maarav’s clergy also must acclimate to a new reality. Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen will take over as senior rabbi at Temple B’Nai Hayim in Sherman Oaks, replacing Rabbi Beryl Padorr. Cantor Linda Rich is still undecided on where she will continue her work.

Grinblat, who will be the final president of Ner Maarav, said he is hopeful for the future.

“I see a smooth transition, and I feel that in a year from now, we will be one people,” he said.

“Those of us from Temple Ner Maarav who will be joining the new synagogue,” Bubman said, “look forward with great expectation that at our new home, we, together with those at Ramat Zion, will continue to be a source of pride for the Jewish community.”

Toronto temple in uproar over rabbi’s departure

One of the world’s best-known Reform temples reportedly is in turmoil over the unexpected departure of its rabbi.

Some members of Toronto’s renowned Holy Blossom Temple are “incensed” at a recently negotiated deal that will see Rabbi John Moscowitz step down next month, the Toronto-based Globe and Mail newspaper reported in its May 26 edition.

“Under the accord, Rabbi Moscowitz, 60, will take an unusual, fully paid, three-year sabbatical, effective July 1, although he will return to officiate at High Holiday services this fall,” the report said. His retirement would begin in 2015, but he will continue on staff as rabbi emeritus at an “undisclosed salary.” 

The settlement, “said to be worth more than a million dollars, was hammered out in protracted legal negotiations,” according to the Globe.

Members of Holy Blossom, which was founded in 1856 as a stalwart of Reform Judaism, include some of Toronto’s wealthiest and most philanthropic Jewish community members. The paper reported that “many” congregants are “outraged” by the decision, and by how the temple’s board of directors handled the issue.

“This has been a tremendous act of board mismanagement,” the Globe quoted member Linda Frum, a Canadian senator, as saying. “I am so upset about the way he has been treated. I feel so poisoned by the atmosphere created that it’s not a place that I could continue to feel comfortable. I know others who are leaving and others who are considering it.”

Bound by confidentiality agreements, neither Moscowitz nor members of the temple’s board spoke to the Globe, “but it is clear that his departure culminates a long and acrimonious backstage battle that divided the congregation,” the paper said.

If your gut tells you something seems suspicious, report it

On Aug. 30, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) held its annual security meeting at its Los Angeles headquarters to advise local Jewish leaders on possible threats facing the community in advance of the High Holy Days.

United States Postal Inspector Glenn Fiene and ADL civil rights specialist Steven Sheinberg discussed “How to Deal With Suspicious Mail” and “Being Safe and Welcoming: Practical Strategies for Jewish Institutions,” respectively.

An FBI spokesman, who asked not to be identified, said no additional threats are facing the Jewish community in light of the High Holy Days, but the ADL, local law enforcement and Jewish institutions will continue to work together on preventive security measures.

“Our attitude toward combating hatred and bigotry is comprehensive,” said Amanda Susskind, ADL Pacific Southwest regional director. “We have both a preventive and responsive role.”

The briefing drew 80 representatives of synagogues, Jewish institutions and organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Temple Israel of Hollywood and Beth Jacob Congregation.

Fiene spoke at length about mail bombs and attacks.

“We haven’t had a bomb in the mail for a couple years in this area,” he said, but he described what people should be aware of when receiving packages: whether the package came from a foreign country; if there is excessive postage or misspelled words on the envelope; if it’s bulky, lopsided, has a strange odor and/or doesn’t have a return address.

“If your gut feeling tells you something’s wrong with a letter or parcel, call us, call a local bomb squad immediately,” he said.

Sheinberg said leaders of Jewish institutions should make a “security risk profile” and can implement a strong security plan by identifying the institution’s members and neighbors, getting technology and equipment that is site-appropriate, and ensuring that everyone tasked with security is doing his/her job — otherwise, expensive technology and equipment won’t help in keeping the institution safe.

Sheinberg acknowledged that developing comprehensive security plans might contradict a Jewish institution’s mission of inclusiveness — but it’s about finding the balance, he said.

“Having an open-door policy doesn’t mean every door needs to be open,” he said. “There are ways to think about and plan for your institution so you can make the institution as open and welcoming as you’re comfortable with.”

The ADL security briefing takes place each year right before Rosh Hashanah. The event on Aug. 30 ran for three hours.

The ADL is encouraging Jewish institutions to download its security manual, “Protecting Your Jewish Institution,” available for free on the ADL Web site. Susskind said the resource is updated regularly.

Leslie Gersicoff, director of the Jewish Labor Committee Western Region, was among the Jewish leaders who attended the briefing.

“Particularly with the holidays coming again, with the upheaval in the world, as agitated as people are over the economic situation, it’s great to be aware of possible threats,” Gersicoff said in an interview. “And ADL has been a wonderful partner organization.”

Sacred spaces

Ever catch yourself on Rosh Hashanah flipping through the remaining pages of the prayer book, mentally calculating how much longer you’ll be there? How about counting the number of tiles in the ceiling? To pray, an individual has to push his thoughts beyond mere material things, which is why thoughtful architects and designers often try to shape synagogues in a way that’s meant to be pleasing but not distracting. These synagogues, however, are worth a longer look. The spaces are too beautiful, too unique or just too clever to ignore. So go ahead and sneak a peek — before you start praying.

Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue

Photo courtesy of malibu jewish center & synagogue    

More than most houses of worship, the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue blurs the boundary between interior and exterior space, almost to the point of nonexistence. The building’s modern, arcing roof lets sunlight filter in through hardwood slats and sweeps out far beyond the glass walls that define the sanctuary. Before the new building opened in early 2006, congregants had to convene in a temporary air-conditioned tent every year on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Now, on High Holy Days, the doors at the base of those glass walls slide completely away, allowing the Reconstructionist congregation to double in size without moving an inch.

Temple Adat Elohim

Rising from the top of Temple Adat Elohim’s ark is a single giant Hebrew letter, a shin. The first letter of one of God’s names (Shaddai) and of Judaism’s central declaration of faith (the Shema), the shin serves as the focal point of this Reform sanctuary. Clearly modeled on the handwritten letters found in torah scrolls, this shin also feels plantlike, like an Art Nouveau motif. The large table and twin wooden podiums at this Thousand Oaks synagogue all have thick, brown, botanical-looking legs — perhaps an additional homage to that late-19th century European artistic movement. The wooden trusses spanning the ceiling , meanwhile, recall the steeply pitched beams at the congregation’s original home.

Temple Ahavat Shalom

Visiting Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge can be a bit like going back to 1978 — to a time of rugged modernism, when cylindrical light fixtures could be deployed in even the most elegant rooms. The Reform temple’s walls are built of cinderblocks that have the rough finish of stone. This unrefined texture extends also to the metal-and-wood doors of the ark and to the eternal light that hangs above it, two interlocking pyramids that are more Auguste Rodin than M.C. Escher. Local Jewish textile artist Peachy Levy made the temple’s Torah covers and obviated the need for traditional silver breastplates. (They still hang in the ark, on the back wall.)

Shomrei Torah Synagogue

With its teal roof, Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills is hard to miss. That signature color is absent from the Conservative synagogue’s white, airy sanctuary, though. The room is relentlessly symmetrical: Two rows of orchids lean toward the ark’s partially frosted glass doors, which sit directly behind a central table, which itself has a strong central axis. One side of the room is a near-mirror image of the other, down to the two identical illuminated memorial cabinets installed in the walls flanking the bimah. The room’s lone unpaired feature: the 12 stained glass panels hanging in front of the sanctuary’s north-facing window, which came from the congregation’s previous building.

Temple Etz Chaim

Winged angels, commandment-inscribed tablets, a menorah, lions and all the notable produce of the Holy Land: This (and more) is portrayed on the sculptural tableau in Temple Etz Chaim’s sanctuary. Rabbi Shimon Paskow, rabbi emeritus at this Conservative synagogue in Thousand Oaks, designed the piece, a super-high relief that faces the congregation during services. (The sculptured panel may look like stone, but it’s closer in weight to styrofoam.) On Friday nights, when the weather is nice, services take place in a courtyard, facing an otherwise ordinary-looking cylindrical tower. But walk inside and look toward the ceiling: You’ll find an oversize Star of David made of white beams inscribed in that circular room. 

Photos by Courtney Raney and Jonah Lowenfeld

Let us reap wisdom sown by tragedy of Tisha B’Av

This week we observe the fast of Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Last year before Tisha B’Av, The Jewish Journal published an article that loosely and foolishly spoke of the destruction of the Temple as a good thing.  Those who offer such opinions do not, perhaps, fully grasp that it meant the death of sages, scholars and countless less-distinguished women, men and children of Israel. They may not recall that it was the end of sovereignty for thousands of years and left Jews at the mercy of others — the often cruel fates that scar our history.  Psychoanalysts tell us that it is the unremembered history that controls us; Jews have always sought to remember our catastrophes — not because they control us, but so that they will not. We do not pretend that tragedies were hidden triumphs or that our sadness is misplaced. 

Since the Temple burned and our people were exiled, however, we sought to understand how to absorb our history to change our destiny. A resigned fatalism is alien to the Jewish spiritual DNA. Our ancestors suffered, but that does not mean our children must suffer. 

In the Talmud, we are told that on the day the Temple was destroyed, nifseka homat habarzel — an iron wall separated Israel from God. Several years ago, Rabbi Gordon Tucker brought a teaching from the late scholar Baruch Bokser, who points out that nifseka can be interpreted to mean either that an iron wall came down and effected a separation between God and Israel — or that the iron wall ceased. In other words, the destruction also had a side that released certain energies in the Jewish people. We lost many ways of serving God and of being a people when the Temple was razed. But potential that was unknown before came to fruition.

This lesson is particularly potent in an apocalyptic age. There are preposterous uses of the “end time,” clear in coinages like “carmeggedon.” But we do have a natural tendency to urge the end. As Frank Kermode pointed out some time ago in his book “The Sense of an Ending,” we say that clocks go tick-tock. But they don’t. They go tick-tick. We supply the tock. Our craving for conclusions is deep within us. We can’t stand to listen to music without the final resolving chord; we don’t like movies that refuse to wrap up neatly. Voldemort must die, Dorothy must wake up in her Kansas bed, and Odysseus return home. We check how many pages are left in the book until we get to the ending. Tock.

So Harold Camping convinces scores of people that the end is near. People find eschatological portents in numbers, wars, constellations and ancient prophecies. In every generation there have been predictions of the imminent arrival of the Messiah, the end, the tock.  Such yearning for the drama to end often leads to what scholar Gershom Scholem called a life “lived in deferment.” Too easily are impatient souls waiting for that concluding note and missing the music as it plays.

Tisha B’Av instructs us on another attitude toward catastrophe and the sense of the ending. Our sages teach that every tragedy contains within it the seeds of redemption. The destruction of the Temple and the dispersion of the people was also an opportunity. The Temple served for some as a wall, separating them from a more direct relationship with God. Therefore, the spread of synagogues to replace the lost center of worship introduced something vital and wonderful into Jewish life. We know that, historically, synagogues already existed while the Temple was still standing. Without a Temple, however, they proliferated. It is a legacy of monotheism: You can only raise synagogues all over the world if you recognize that God is everywhere. God is tied to no single land or clime. Exile emphasized the Torah’s truth, that no place is empty of the Divine. Instead of a coffin, wandering became a cradle; rather than end our people, it provided new beginnings.

Story continues after the jump.

On Tisha B’Av, Ashkenazim do not wear tefillin at the morning service; for the only time during the year, we put them on later, in the afternoon. It signals the move from tragedy to promise. Following the wisdom of Psalm 23, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” we understand that the key term is “walk.” We cannot stay in the valley. As we wrap the tefillin, we are reminded that they cannot, in the poet’s phrase, “rust unburnished” but rather must “shine in use.” So with each soul; mourning is a temporary condition, and one must carry its meaning into the daylight.

History is never univocal. Destruction and creation, loss and renewal are twined together like voices in harmony. The Psalmist cries out that he does not know if his people could sing in the new land of Babylon (Psalm 137). But on those strange shores, the Babylonian Talmud was born. We became creative in virtually every living literature in the world. Jews contributed to all the societies that alternately welcomed and scorned them. Still, the memory of destruction was never far from our minds. Corners of houses were left unpainted, to remind us that we were not fully home. In our prayers, as today, we prayed for rain not when it was needed in France, or Russia, or Los Angeles, but in Israel. We kept our clocks set on Jerusalem time. 

This dialectic of all we lost and all we wove out of our losses is the guiding thread of Jewish history. Only a callow disregard for suffering would see the Temple’s destruction as less than a monumental tragedy. “Eicha Yashva Badad” — how does the city, Jerusalem, sit solitary, cries the lamentation that we read on Tisha B’Av. The pain of the exiled Jews is enshrined in words echoing through the ages: Jerusalem in ashes. But how sad and dispirited to miss the exuberant creativity and genius unleashed in the world by an enforced Diaspora. 

On Tisha B’Av, we cry for all we have lost. We have lost, we Jews, so very much.  But mourning will end. The state has been restored. Though we are embattled, we are no longer helpless. We may not all agree, but the cacophony of Jewish voices is free and strong. The lessons of Tisha B’Av, its sadness, its song, endure.

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at

Explosion near Chabad of Santa Monica may have been a bomb [UPDATE]

[UPDATE: FRIDAY, APRIL 8 — 4:30 p.m.] ” title=”Patch” target=”_blank”>Santa Monica reports.

The explosion occurred at the Chabad House Lubavitch of Santa Monica, not the Santa Monica Synagogue, as previously reported. The Chabad House is located at 1428 17th St.; the Santa Monica Synagogue is at 1448 18th St.

Rabbi Isaac Levitansky told Santa Monica Patch on Thursday morning that he wasn’t sure if the bomb was intended for the synagogue, or what the motivation for planting it may have been if it was.

“We didn’t hear anything” when the bomb exploded, he said. “We were in the middle of morning prayers. Thank God everyone was OK.”

Read more at ” style=”color:#0000FF;text-align:left”>View Larger Map

The Brothers Wolpe talk bioethics at Sinai Temple

On Sunday morning, Dec. 12, near the end of his weekend-long stay as a scholar-in-residence at Sinai Temple, bioethicist Dr. Paul Root Wolpe was asked by Rabbi David Wolpe to give a few quick responses to some of the most challenging contemporary bioethical dilemmas.

“No,” Dr. Wolpe replied, provoking laughter from the nearly 300 people in attendance. “I can’t give quick responses; I’m a Wolpe.”

Dr. Wolpe is professor of bioethics and Jewish bioethics at Emory University as well as senior bioethicist for NASA and the first national bioethics adviser to Planned Parenthood of America. He had already delivered two talks to his brother’s congregation on Shabbat, so one highlight of Sunday’s breakfast was a picture-heavy PowerPoint presentation, which included quite a few photographs of genetically and otherwise engineered animals. He started with hybrids like the beefalo, the zorse (zebra-horse), the cama (camel-lama), the geep (sheep-goat) and, much to the delight of fans of “Napoleon Dynamite,” the liger (lion-tiger). Later, he showed pictures of mice, kittens, pigs, puppies and monkeys that, thanks to some genetic material from jellyfish and deep-sea coral, had been engineered to glow in the dark.

“The only reason to create a kitten that glows in the dark,” Dr. Wolpe said, “is to create a kitten that glows in the dark.” Rapid scientific advances like these raise ethical questions — which is, of course, is why the world needs bioethicists like Dr. Wolpe.

Despite his jocular demurral, the doctor eventually did offer a few concise observations on hot topics. Abortion: “No one has the right to tell me that my body has to be at the service of another body.” The degree to which health care is disproportionately allocated to the elderly: “We spend an enormous amount of money dying in this culture.” Embryonic stem cells: The way to infuriate scientists who advocate for the ethical use of embryonic stem cells is to ask them to name an experiment that would be too frivolous a use for such cells. “Should we use them to study male pattern baldness?” Dr. Wolpe asked, rhetorically.

Lonely Man of Faith

Imagine an 11-year-old kid who wakes up in the middle of the night to berate a group of grown-ups who are saying things he disagrees with. This is what my friend Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller did. It was past midnight, after a long Friday night Shabbat meal, in his childhood home in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood. His parents and some of their friends were talking about the need to support the new State of Israel, which was then in its infancy.

Something about the conversation bothered the young Chaim. So he got up, walked over to the living room where the grown-ups were schmoozing, and told them: “If all of you were such strong Zionists, you wouldn’t be here right now, you’d all be in Israel!”

He’s been getting in trouble ever since.

He remembers when he was in high school being the lone voice at the Shabbat table arguing against the Vietnam War. A few years later, as a student at Yeshiva University protesting the nuclear arms race, he annoyed more than a few people by pulling stunts like displaying a huge mushroom cloud outside his dorm window.

This is a man who loves his freedom of speech. There’s never a bad time for him to jump into a debate. The other day in his office at UCLA Hillel, where he is the longtime executive director, he was answering two phone calls at once and rushing to get ready for a speaking engagement. But when I said something about the crisis in the Middle East that bothered him, he dropped everything and started debating.

This predisposition to speak up has served him well. When he dreamed many years ago of creating the most beautiful Hillel center in the country, he talked it up to everyone who would listen — philanthropists, community leaders, architects, UCLA authorities, alumni, students and even the owners of Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, who couldn’t resist his appeals and eventually agreed to open a cafe inside the center.

The center, which opened eight years ago and is named after the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, reflects Seidler-Feller’s penchant for pluralism and freedom of expression. There are students playing pool downstairs, while others study the Talmud upstairs. On Friday night, he has initiated something that you will rarely see in America: three simultaneous prayer services — one Orthodox, one Conservative and one Reform.

This is one of the contradictions in Seidler-Feller. Normally, people who are so tolerant and pluralist are pretty easygoing. It’s the “live and let live” attitude — you do what you do, and I’ll do what I do.

Yet Seidler-Feller is anything but easygoing. He’s intolerant of intolerance. His big thing is passionate pluralism. Pluralism, for him, is not a lame surrender to reality or a polite euphemism for disengaging.
Rather, it’s an enlightened way of bringing out the best in individuals for the collective good. Seidler-Feller himself is an Orthodox Jew who wears a kippah and prays three times a day, and he does have his boundaries: He once declined to officiate at the marriage of a friend who is a major Hollywood celebrity because he doesn’t marry interfaith couples.

But don’t get him started about imposing his Orthodox ways. That’s not what turns him on. What turns him on is learning — learning everything you can about the Jewish tradition and choosing your own path. It’s a passionate pluralism based on meaning and knowledge. He has seen the significant contributions that so many non-Orthodox scholars have made to Jewish life, and he’d like nothing more than for the thousands of Jewish students who have passed through Hillel over the years to choose their way of continuing that tradition.

Sometimes I think that he must be terrified at the possibility of mind control —  of being told what to read, what to think or what to say. So he transfers this fear to others.

Maybe this is why our relationship has survived a thousand arguments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It doesn’t bother him that I have my own views. He might disagree vehemently with a lot of what I say, but, somehow, I feel he’s enjoying the process. Beyond the argument itself, he sees something bigger: two Jews exercising their freedom of speech, not to attack or verbally abuse, but to express their independent views.

Seidler-Feller’s outspoken nature has made for an interesting but complicated life. He seems to always be in one struggle or another. While his favorite struggles are intellectual, lately they have also been physical, as he’s had to deal with chronic back pain. He finds strength in Psalm 92, which talks of proclaiming God’s “steadfast love at daybreak” and His “faithfulness each night.” He says this Psalm renews his optimism every morning, when anything is possible. But then, after a typical day of struggle that often humbles him, it also renews his faith in God every night.

On the night of May 5, at the Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood, my friend Chaim, with his wife, Doreen, will be honored for their 36 years of service to Hillel and to our community. People from all over whose lives have been touched by the Seidler-Fellers will come to honor them and say a few words.

I have no idea what Chaim will say that night, but I hope he’ll never stop waking up to challenge the grown-ups.

David Suissa is the founder of OLAM magazine and You can read his daily blog at and e-mail him at

Bus ad for Third Temple yanked

A bus advertisement campaign by an extreme right-wing group calling for the building of the Third Temple has been removed.

The Our Land of Israel party had put posters on 200 Jerusalem city buses shortly before Passover showing an artist’s rendition of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Al Aksa Mosque and the slogan “May the Temple be built in our lifetime.”

The signs were removed by the advertising franchiser this week, several days before the campaign was set to end, following many threats received in the last week, according to Ynet.

Activist Baruch Marzel and Rabbi Shalom Wolpe formed the Our Land of Israel movement in 2008. The group told Ynet that it is considering suing the advertising franchiser and the Egged bus company.

Mayor Villaraigosa Welcomed at Shabbat Service

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa was a surprise guest this month at Friday evening’s Shabbat services at Stephen S. Wise Temple, after he had accepted an invitation from Rabbi Elie Herscher to allow the congregation to express its appreciation for the mayor’s unwavering support for Israel.

About 2,000 people packed the sanctuary, who gave Villaraigosa an extended standing ovation. Also in attendance were the Israeli Consul General Yaakov Dayan, Jewish Federation President John Fischel, and four members of the LA city council.

In reporting on his recent visit to Israel, Villaraigosa said that if Hamas would stop the rocket attacks on Israel, Gazans would be able to live in peace, and that if the Arab world would accept Israel’s right to exist there would be peace.

As the mayor left the Temple, he was greeted by more than a hundred first-graders waving Israeli flags and singing songs of peace. One student wrapped a large Israeli flag around the shoulders of the mayor, who held the flag tight and sang along with the young students.

An enduring miracle

This coming Shabbat, together with Jewish communities around the world, we will celebrate the joyous festival of Chanukah. Most of us are quite familiar with the story of Chanukah and the miracle that our tradition recalls.

We learned as children that when the Maccabees rededicated our ancient Temple in Jerusalem, they found enough oil to light the menorah for only a single day. God’s miracle, we learned, was that the oil that should have lasted but one day lasted, rather, for eight days.

The rabbinic sages, explaining the ritual lighting of Chanukah, recounted in the Talmudic tractate of Shabbat the miracle noted above. We might wonder whether this miracle actually occurred. And, if it did not occur, we might question whether we should continue to observe the ritual lighting associated with this nonevent.

In order to understand the original and continued significance of the lighting of Chanukah’s flames, we might explore the manner in which we light the chanukiyah — Chanukah’s eight-branched menorah. We can thereby gain a deeper and enduring appreciation of the lighting, one that chronicles a miracle we live today as much as it commemorates a miracle of long ago.

The Talmud instructs us to observe Chanukah’s ritual lighting in accordance with the sage Hillel’s practice. We are to kindle one additional flame for each successive day of the holiday. On the first day, we kindle one flame; on the second, two flames; etc. According to the sage Shammai’s dissenting opinion, we ought eliminate one flame for each successive day of the holiday; on the first day, eight flames; on the second day, seven flames; etc.

At first glance, Shammai’s approach seems compelling: In recounting the miracle of the single jar of oil that lasted eight days, we should acknowledge that, despite our rational conclusion to the contrary, there was in actuality enough oil on the first day of Chanukah to last eight days, on the second day to last seven, and so on. In other words, Shammai suggested that the proper way to recount the miracle is to recall what once occurred from the perspective of one who knows how the story ends.

Still, the Talmud rules in accordance with Hillel. I believe Hillel’s view prevailed because it reflected a belief that the ritual lighting of Chanukah is more than commemorative; it exists very much in the present tense, experientially. Standing outside the miracle, remembering it historically as Shammai did, the focus is simply on how much oil remained each day. However, when we use the ritual to relive the miracle in our present, when we experience each day of it anew, we are not certain that our oil will last yet another moment. We cannot be sure that the lights we revisit from our ancient Jewish past, or even those we strive to preserve and nourish today, will endure. Will the Jewish flame of our era burn forth unto our children and our children’s children? Are we any less at risk of losing our light than the menorah in the Temple was so very long ago? Might it have been the case for the rabbis long ago that the “miracle” of Chanukah was a metaphor for our people’s unlikely but persistent survival and flourishing, against all odds? Is it possible that the miracle that we celebrate in our own era, when kindling our own flames of Chanukah, is the ever-constant miracle of our presence in this world, altogether, as Jews?

The flames of Chanukah, as Hillel had us kindle them by adding one more flame each day, express our enduring faith that our flame of today will grow ever stronger, in our own generation and beyond. The flames we kindle on Chanukah represent our commitment to the work we must do to enhance and clarify the light of our people and the beauty and depth of Jewish meaning and purpose. Ultimately, from within the annual and ongoing miracle of Chanukah, we might even come to recognize that we, ourselves, are the flames; we are the enduring miracle of Chanukah, if we make it so.

Rabbi Isaac Jeret is the spiritual leader of Congregation Ner Tamid, a Conservative congregation in Rancho Palos Verdes. For more information, visit

Discovery of King David-era fort stirs debate on size of kingdom

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Under a sky of darkening clouds on a hill above the valley where tradition says David and Goliath battled, archaeologist Yosef Garfinkel triumphantly rests his hands on a 10-ton limestone rock, part of a newly discovered second gate to an ancient fortified city he is unearthing.

Garfinkel sees the massive gate, the largest ever found from the period, as potentially further evidence that the first kingdom of the Israelites was as grand as the Bible describes.

“Here we are in the footsteps of David,” says Garfinkel, a Hebrew University professor, his voice quickening with excitement. Noting the gate’s eastward direction, he adds, “It’s facing Jerusalem, another indication that it is part of the Judean kingdom.”

This 3,000-year-old fortress with two gates, to this day surrounded by a stone wall that contains original stones from the period, is the only one of its kind ever uncovered. Garfinkel believes it could be the remains of a town referred to in the Bible as Sha’arayim, meaning “two gates” in Hebrew.

The unearthing of the two gates, along with a pottery shard found by a teenage dig-site volunteer inscribed with what is believed to be the earliest known Hebrew text written in a Proto-Canaanite script, are being heralded as significant historical finds for a period — the 10th century B.C.E. — with scant physical evidence.

But the site also provides a lens on the wider debate over how vast and unified a kingdom David did or did not build so many centuries ago — a question of present-day interest and controversy, as the founders of Israel declared their modern Jewish state the long-interrupted continuation of the kingdom this legendary ancient figure is thought to have established.

Some scholars argue that David’s Jerusalem was merely a backwater village glorified into a mythical place by those they say penned the Bible centuries later. Others suggest that true to its biblical description, it was a genuine power overseeing a strong and united kingdom. The discovery of what is being called the Elah Fortress has quickly been used to reinforce the latter argument.

Located on the road to Jerusalem, the fortress could have been a front-line defense of the city against enemy Philistines, Garfinkel says, and evidence of a powerful and centralized kingdom that needed protection.

An Israeli-based Jewish educational group called Foundation Stone ( has embraced the idea that the site could help confirm the historic footprints of the Bible. The group is helping to raise funds for its excavation and hopes to develop the site into a first-rate tourism and educational facility, for Jews and non-Jews. Foundation Stone wants the site to become a must-see part of travels to Israel and even have tourists participate in its uncovering as volunteers at the dig.

Garfinkel is bold in his pronouncements against the school of archaeologists skeptical that the Bible left behind a chronologically reliable physical trail of evidence, arguing that the Elah Fortress, located in the Elah Valley near the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh, is an important new weapon in the ongoing discourse.

“It’s telling them that they are wrong,” he says. “A certain amount of the biblical tradition indeed preserves historical stories and historical events. This is the first time in the history of archaeology of Israel that you have a fortified city dated to the time of David.”

Even in Jerusalem, he says, there is no clear physical record of what occurred in the 10th century B.C.E., when David, and later his son, Saul, were to have ruled. In large part that’s because the city, inhabited continuously since David’s time, is extremely difficult to excavate.

“No archaeological site gave you such a clear picture about the Kingdom of David” as this one, Garfinkel says.

He was scheduled to present his findings Tuesday to colleagues at Harvard University.

However, disagreeing with him is Israel Finkelstein, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist and author of “David and Solomon: In Search of the Bible’s Sacred Kings and the Roots of the Western Tradition.”

“David and Solomon were historical figures, but we have to look at every piece of evidence very carefully,” Finkelstein says.

Finkelstein, a father of the scholarly group that is skeptical that the biblical narrative can be proven through archaeology, thinks it’s too early to say whether the city was in fact Judean. He suggests it is even more likely a Philistine city because of its physical proximity to Gath, a major Philistine town and, according to the Bible, Goliath’s hometown.

Garfinkel says he is open to the possibility that the site could turn out to be Philistine, but he thinks it is unlikely because of a lack of pig bones found there and the writing on the pottery shard.

Finkelstein, however, also casts doubt on whether the Proto-Canaanite script found on the pottery shard will be confirmed as Hebrew and dismisses outright the notion that the site could be the Sha’arayim mentioned in the Bible.

He says it could not be the same town, because when Sha’arayim is listed as a Judean town in the Book of Joshua, it is clustered with a group of places that have all been dated to the seventh century B.C.E., and the site of the Elah Fortress was shown to have been abandoned at least 200 years earlier.

“Archaeology has always been used in many places in the world to support this or that idea or theory that have to deal with the holy and nation building,” says Finkelstein, seeing the way this site is being approached as another example.

Barnea Selevan, co-director of Foundation Stone, says the significance of the site for his organization is at least in part “because some people say the Bible has no historical basis to it.”

Garfinkel cautions that the excavation is still in very early stages and that it will take the next decade to unearth even 30 to 40 percent of the city. He notes that it was first surveyed by British archaeologists in the 19th century but was then largely forgotten until his carbon dating of its stones found that it dated to the elusive but important 10th century B.C.E. period.

“All throughout the 20th century it was forgotten,” and now it could be a turning point find, he muses.

“It’s very exciting,” Garfinkel says. “You have a theory, and then you begin to be able to prove it.”

VIDEO: Archaeologists excavate 2100-year-old wall in Jerusalem

A 2,100-year-old section of the wall surrounding Jerusalem, dating from Hasmonean times, has been unearthed on Mount Zion, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Wednesday. The excavations have revealed part of the expanded southern city wall, from the Second Temple period, when ancient Jerusalem was at its largest.


Researcher tracing Jewish genes meets the Kohanim of Africa [VIDEO]

Dr. David B. Goldstein from Duke’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy talks about tracking the genetic history of the ancient Jewish priesthood (kohanim) and the Lost Tribe of Israel, the focus of his new book, “Jacob’s Legacy”.

For many people, genetics research conjures up frightening notions of racial or religious superiority — or the possibility of genetic discrimination. David B. Goldstein isn’t worried about either of these things.

“I take the view that there isn’t anything to be afraid of in our genetic makeups. So I really think that it’s interesting, fascinating even, sometimes important, but there isn’t anything scary lurking there,” said Goldstein, a professor of molecular genetics and the director of Duke University’s Institute for Genome Sciences and Policy’s Center for Population Genomics &Pharmacogenetics.

Goldstein, 44, even applies his open-research policy to a scientific study a few years ago that linked genetic diseases to intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. He calls that work “speculative,” but he doesn’t rule out research into the issue.

“That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to be really careful in how you present what’s been done,” he said. “I think you do, and I think we’ve seen mistakes in how work is presented. I think it’s really reckless to overstate results. But I don’t think there are any areas that are unwise to investigate, because I’m just not afraid of what we’re going to find.”

In “Jacob’s Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History,” recently published by Yale University Press, Goldstein uses the latest genetic methods — including genetic mapping and advanced DNA testing — to illuminate compelling issues in Jewish history like the biblical priesthood, the Lost Tribes, Jewish migration, and Jewish genetic diseases.

Goldstein’s most startling finding: There are enough Y chromosome similarities among many who call themselves descendants of the Cohanim, the biblical priestly caste, to argue for genetic Cohen continuity.

He and his colleagues tested these similarities by comparing the Y chromosomes of Cohanim with the chromosomes of other Jews. Sure enough, the majority of the self-identified Cohanim, whether Ashkenazi or Sephardi Jews, had the same type of Y chromosome. Further testing by Goldstein and friends leads him to estimate that the Cohanim were founded before the Roman era — and perhaps before the Babylonian conquest in the sixth century B.C.E.

Even Goldstein was blown away.

“The apparent continuity of the Cohen Y chromosome was an out-and-out stunner; I would have never predicted that to be the case,” he said.

He also finds genetic evidence for the idea that the Lemba tribe in Africa might have some Jewish origins, a finding that the media simplified by saying he had shown the Lemba are one of Judaism’s 10 Lost Tribes.

In the section on the Lemba, and indeed throughout the book, Goldstein is careful about his conclusions. For him, the research is more about shedding light on themes of Jewish history, such as exile and Diaspora. As he puts it in the book, “What makes a people a people? What binds them together through time? What alienates them from some and aligns them to others?”

As admirable as the book’s scholarship is its readability. Goldstein’s jargon-free writing and sense of humor courts readers who are not hard-core scientists. At different points in the book, he calls himself a “lousy mathematician” and as “having a bit of the gambler in my genes,” and, in the section about the alleged link between genetic diseases and intelligence, he writes, “Now we geneticists have a genuine kerfuffle on our hands.”

Don’t be misled — Goldstein’s book isn’t “Jewish Genetics for Dummies.” But he has taken cutting-edge science and made it accessible to the general reader willing to make an effort.

It wasn’t easy, admitted Goldstein, whose academic work focuses on medical genetics — specifically, why some people control HIV better than other people and why some people respond better to some medicines than other people.

“I started writing this just about 10 years ago. The discussions of the science were dreadful, incomprehensible. And so I just tried it again and again until I found ways that worked and that people didn’t complain about when I showed it to them.”

Part of the motivation for the book, Goldstein says, stems from guilt he feels because he remained in graduate school at Stanford and didn’t go to Israel when the 1991 Gulf War broke out.

“I did feel like I should do something. And I think doing some work eventually at least gave me some kind of connection to read about Jewish history as part of my job, and that definitely made me feel better. I guess I finally got over it and started going to Israel regularly, which I still do.”

He’s frank about the limitations of genetic history. “[G]enetics can never, however, replace, or even compete with, the painstaking work of archaeology, philology, linguistics, paleobotany and the many other disciplines that have helped resurrect some of the lost stories of human history,” Goldstein writes.

Understandably, though, he’s proud that his research has yielded some insight into some vexing issues, and shares the notion that what he is doing on some issues — say, the Cohanim — borders on the fantastic.

“The continuity of the Cohen paternal line is an astounding thing,” he said. “And it’s a little tiny bit of history that genetics tells you about.”

Peter Ephross’ articles and reviews have appeared in the Village Voice, the Forward and Publishers Weekly, among other publications.

Write your own dirge for Tisha B’Av 2008

Jewish tradition teaches that we are commanded to write a Torah in our lifetime, but not a kinah, or dirge. For ages, our prophets and rabbis have done this for us, filtering and distancing, putting our most painful group memories into acrostic, poetic form.

Beginning with Eicha (Lamentations) and continuing with additional kinot, our forebears have turned the darkest days in our history into a ready-to-use alef-bet of tragedy.

Now as we approach Tisha B’Av, the 9th of Av, the fast day on which we remember the destruction of the First and Second Temples and other disasters that occurred on this date by chanting these kinot, I am encouraging you in this age of immersion and Googley do-it-yourself to pick up pencil or pen and write your own dirge.

Tisha B’Av, which starts this year on the night of Aug. 9, literally cries out for our involvement. Writing your own kinah can create a powerful connection to a summer day that might otherwise pass you by.

Historically, not all kinot were in Hebrew—Italian Jews wrote them in their own language, so you can, too.

Through the kinot, Tisha B’Av lives as a construct of memory. The day takes on new meaning as we place our own memories, in our own words, into the construct.

The writing of personal kinot is an activity that I have led several times in Los Angeles with a lay-led Jewish community called the Movable Minyan. Participants have found that writing their own kinot helps them forge an intimate connection to Tisha B’Av—a fast day many Jews find difficult to encounter—especially if they are read or even chanted.

In these kinot workshops, participants have written about personal loss during the Holocaust, onset and recovery from serious illness, how Jewish generational links have been broken and re-forged, earthquakes and riots.

Over the centuries the focus of these poems—which began with the destruction of the ancient Jewish Temples—has evolved to include other calamities as well. There is a kinah for the York massacre in 1190 and one for the French Crown’s order in 1242 that all copies of the Talmud be burned.

The Ten Martyrs—you will recall them from Yom Kippur’s Martyrology Service—also have a kinah dedicated to their sacrifice. Several kinot have been written about the Holocaust and are now in use around the world. Sephardim have written them about the Expulsion from Spain.

No one is expecting you to be an elegiac master. With a few good moments of focus and intent, the form of the acrostic kinah can be yours to appreciate and use. Don’t be thrown by the acrostic part. It is based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, with the acrostic being created by the initial letter of each verse. Two common explanations for choosing this literary form are that the use of the entire alphabet represents the totality of the destruction, and that even in destruction there is a beginning and an end.

In Hebrew, the lines of a typical kinah gain strength from alternating long and short lines. Rhythmically, the lines play off each other, adding nuance and meaning. In English translation, you can reach some of the same rhythm.

Take, for example, this section from the beginning of Eicha, the book read on the night of Tisha B’Av (it helps to read aloud):

Lonely sits the city
Once great with people!
She that was great among nations
Is become like a widow;
The princess among states
Is become a thrall.
(JPS Translation © 2000)

And here, listen carefully to each line’s rhythm:

Her enemies are now the masters,
Her foes are at ease,
Because the Lord has afflicted her
For her many transgressions;
Her infants have gone into captivity
Before the enemy.

For your kinah, writing 10 lines will give you a good feel for the form. Alas, the wellspring for poetic inspiration about loss and tragedy in Jewish life often seems endless. Yet try to focus on one theme. Your source might be Jewish-related news, an e-mail or a late-night call.

Once you have a theme, simply begin your first line with an “A” word and work your way line by line to “J.”

There is no need to rhyme, only to recall and feel. Think of the kinah as a soulful mnemonic in which each line’s beginning helps you to remember.

As you prepare to write, get into the mood of the approaching day. Many congregations chant Eicha while seated on low stools or even on the floor. Lights are dimmed. For as the commentary Eicha Rabbah teaches, “What does a mortal king do when he is in mourning, he extinguishes the lanterns.”

Use a simple pen or pencil. Find an “un-easy” chair. Go basic, light a candle. If you can, let some hope in, as Eicha’s closing line is: “Renew our days as of old.”

On Tisha B’Av, sitting together, we chant the kinot. It’s a communal experience where the memories and pain are mourning shared.

Prepare and help others to prepare for Tisha B’Av by sharing your creation.

To awaken your inner poet, just listen a little, sift a bit, think and write yourself into this Jewish way of remembering.

Edmon J. Rodman is a writer and designer of children’s media and toys.


Willingness to Sacrifice

Animal sacrifices are rather messy, and most of us would have a hard time imagining ourselves offering them up upon a Temple altar.

I’m probably not going too far
out on a limb in suggesting that when we come to shul each year to begin the book of Vayikra, we feel quietly relieved that the “lecture” won’t be followed by a “lab.”

We’re confident that the chances of our rabbi exhorting us to come next Shabbat with two year-old unblemished lambs for a pleasing fire-offering before the Lord are extremely small. (Rabbi Abraham Kook, chief rabbi of pre-state Palestine, actually opined that all of the offerings in the Third Temple will be vegetarian.)

Although strangely enough, I would argue that the cost of distancing ourselves emotionally from the world of sacrifices has been high, and that the historical lapsing of the practice has had a negative impact on the state of our contemporary religious practice.

Sacrifices were never actually about sacrifice. Sacrifices were about the willingness to sacrifice.

God did not command our ancestors to offer sacrifices because He needed or wanted them. “For what do I need your numerous offerings, saith the Lord?”
(Isaiah 1:11).

Rather, God did so in order to instill and reinforce within us an essential feature of the entirety of religious living, namely the willingness to endure personal sacrifice in the pursuit of doing that which is holy and that which is good.

It’s impossible to compare the power and potential of religious commitment that comes with the willingness to sacrifice with those of a commitment that are not thus accompanied. If I am committed, for example, to feed the hungry of my city, and I am prepared to expose myself to the cold, the rain and other unpleasant circumstances in order to do it, I will impact much more powerfully than if I am unprepared to do so.

Yet, despite the obviousness of this observation, we very often fail to apply its implications to the wide swath of our religious commitments. Consider these three examples:

A holy ethic of speech

We are each committed to the Torah’s vision of holy and ethical speech. We recognize the damage we can inflict by publicly humiliating others (the rabbis compare it to murder), the pain we can inflict through cruel or insensitive use of words (the Torah employs the term “oppression” to describe speaking in this way) and the irremediable harm we can cause by speaking ill of others (even when what we have said is true).

But how much personal sacrifice are we willing to endure to uphold this commitment? In certain situations, our commitment will require us to sacrifice personal popularity, reputation, even personal pride. The holiness of verbal discretion is not always appreciated in all social or professional circumstances. To what extent is the willingness to sacrifice part of our commitment to ethical speech?

Identifying with the grand narrative of the Jewish people

Broken down to its most basic formulation, to have a Jewish identity is to commit to consciously live one’s life as a chapter in the ongoing narrative of Jewish history. We each can and do define this in our own way, but the objective is a common one. The premise of such a life, of course, is being anchored in the chapters of the narrative that have already been written.

The instrument through which we achieve that anchoring is the observance of our holidays. Sure, we love and cherish our holidays. But we often are not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary if we are to truly, deeply “become one” with the chapters of our history that they embody.

We often hesitate when it comes to making dietary sacrifices (Tisha B’Av, Passover), sacrifices in our convenience (Sukkot), professional/financial sacrifices (Shabbat). But with no pain, there’s no gain. And our ability to firmly establish our place in our people’s ongoing story is diluted.

Seeing the world through God’s eyes

We are each aware of our own limitations. Our best and most sincere efforts are vulnerable to the intrusions of our egos and to the variety of ulterior motives that are endemic to the human condition. The best antidote we have is daily prayer — when we hold up our deeds and thoughts before God, and we see them as God does.

Any impurities in our motives or insincerities in our intentions are revealed, and we emerge from prayer with the blessed ability to fine-tune our course. Prayer, too, requires sacrifice however; sacrifice of the most elusive of all quantities nowadays –that of time. Prayer simply takes time.

The details of Parshat Vayikra indeed come to us from an era long ago. But the underlying message, the need to be willing to make sacrifices in order to realize our deepest commitments, is timeless. The reward for this willingness is nothing less than the unlocking of all the hidden potential that resides within our most profound and cherished ideals.

Yosef Kanefsky is the rabbi of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Betty Neymark: Second Career From a Second Language

Betty Neymark

Barri Evins

Alex Baum

Betty Neymark

Eve Marcus

Fran Rosenfield

Marilyn Harran

Noah Bleich

Rebecca Levinson

Yehoram Uziel

Yoram Hassid

“Why isn’t Temple Judea doing something like this?” Betty Neymark’s daughter, Nancy, asked her more than 19 years ago, referring to an English as a second language program at a nearby church. That was all the push Neymark needed.

She and her daughter, along with friend and reading specialist Evelyn Stecher, promptly began a program at their Reform synagogue in Tarzana.

On the first day of registration in January 1990, Neymark thought no one would show up. Instead, she encountered a line of people stretching past the Temple’s driveway. Fifty students registered, and Temple Judea’s all-volunteer ESL program was born.

Today that program boasts 150 students, 25 volunteer teachers and five administrators, including Neymark. While her daughter has begun a new career and Stecher has moved away, Neymark remains.

“I just love it. I meet wonderful people. It enhances my life,” said Neymark, who previously worked as a human resources administrator in two school districts.

Those “wonderful people” include the students, primarily from the former Soviet Union, Iran and South America. Most are 50 or older, and they are both Jewish and not. Many are new immigrants. A few have lived here as long as 20 years.

Neymark also has great affection for the teachers, who range in age from 21 to 89. Only two are new this year, and 18 of them have been with program 10 years or more.

The classes are small, with four to seven students. They meet for two hours twice a week, from September to June. In addition to English, students learn about American culture.

“Students come in with no English and then are able to function in society and make their lives better,” said Neymark, noting that many go on to become citizens and to vote.

Temple Judea provides the classroom space. The program is free; students pay only for their textbooks. Donations and a corporate grant cover other expenses.

“I call myself a coordinator,” said Neymark, a 47-year temple member who won’t reveal her age. She registers new students, evaluating their English proficiency and placing them in one of six homogeneous classes, ranging from beginning to conversational English. She also arranges for new teachers to receive 12 hours of training each fall.

Additionally, she publishes a newsletter twice a year for the teachers, holds two faculty meetings a year and organizes the annual faculty party.

Neymark is reluctant to take credit for program’s accomplishments.

“It runs itself,” she said, emphasizing that it’s a team effort. She also refers to her husband, who does all her computer work, as her “secret weapon.”

Hilda Fogelson, a retired Los Angeles Unified School District teacher who has taught in the program for 16 years, said, “Betty is very organized and very professional. That’s why the program is so successful.”

Neymark feels a responsibility to continue to support Temple Judea and the Jewish community.

“I’m not going to fade away any sooner than I have to,” she said.