No matter where you sit on the immigration debate, it’s hard not to be moved by what happened to little Adam, an 8-year-old Jewish boy from the San Fernando Valley who watched his father being taken away on the morning of Oct. 18.
You can abuse people, and you can also abuse values. Take two great Jewish values: self-criticism and caring for the stranger. How would one abuse such values? By lifting them up at the expense of other great Jewish values — such as fairness and balance.
It’s taken American Jews a good century to fully absorb the miraculous idea that this country is unlike any other that Jews have experienced. After 2,000 years of feeling insecure no matter where we pitched our tents, the people of Moses finally found safe harbor in the land of Lincoln — the land of freedom, human rights and justice for all.
When I see the earnest and eager John Kerry globe-trotting the world in his sharp business suits trying to convince mullahs not to build a nuclear bomb, I can’t help but have these politically incorrect thoughts that are loaded with stereotypes.
We teach our kids two things about honesty: One, that “honesty is the best policy,” which means that, ultimately, it’s in one’s interest to be honest. An honest reputation is good for business, telling the truth will keep you out of trouble, and so on.
It’s common these days to micromanage what information we receive. Many of us have a list of favorite Web sites and blogs we regularly go to, as well as Facebook pages and mobile apps that reflect our individual tastes and ideologies.
It’s not easy to wrap your mind around a complex program like Obamacare, which features 381,517 words in its actual bill and 11,588,500 more words in added regulations.
In the great, century-long love affair between America and the Jews, it’s tempting to assume that Jewish and American values are perfectly aligned.
There’s a nasty food fight going on right now in the Orthodox world between the stringent groups and the more open ones.
It’s funny how the American Jewish community has a way of getting all breathless and excited when a new study comes out, as is happening right now with the new Pew survey.
If the religion of Islam ever succeeds in eradicating its extremist and violent elements, it will be because of devout Muslim women like Raheel Raza, a long-time human rights activist from Pakistan.
Too many books about Israel try to tell us what to think or feel. Whether from the left or right, it seems that the subject of Israel brings out the emotional partisan in many of us. We feel strongly one way or the other, so we like to read books or articles that support our opinions.
When we talk about Jewish values, we usually refer to things like justice, compassion, generosity, humility, honesty, faith, wisdom and so on. We rarely talk about beauty.
“Imagine your congregation gathered to witness the first strokes of the Scribe’s quill on new parchment ... Feeling a real connection to the shape of the letters, the texture of the parchment, the concentration of the Scribe, holding his quill, preparing to write the name of G-d.”
“Organized Judaism is in trouble.” I’ve been hearing that refrain for years now, from rabbis and Jewish leaders in speeches, sermons, op-eds and conferences. The litany of complaints is familiar: Synagogue membership is down; the new generation doesn’t like organized religion; people want something new; and so on.
As President Barack Obama and the world deliberate over how to respond to Syria’s murderous decision to use chemical weapons, a group of Israeli Jews have been fighting the humanitarian crisis the old-fashioned way — by smuggling aid into Syria.
Here in Pico-Robertson, we’re bracing ourselves for the annual onslaught of kosher calories known as the Holy Month. Some people think that this time of year calls for only a few big meals. Not quite. If you’re a stickler for tradition, the actual number of Thanksgiving-level meals over the next month is closer to — I’m not kidding — about 18. And that’s not even counting the Yom Kippur pre-fast and break-the-fast meals.
I confess there’s something that’s always bothered me about this time of year, when we put such a big emphasis on reflecting on our mistakes. Why only now? Isn’t this something we should be doing all year? As a community, we certainly do plenty of it, through the very act of constantly challenging one another.
“The Iranian regime supports violent extremists and challenges us across the region. It pursues a nuclear capability that could spark a dangerous arms race and raise the prospect of a transfer of nuclear know-how to terrorists. ... The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.”
The conventional wisdom is that the revived Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are doomed to fail. The popular reason cited is that “the maximum the Israelis can offer is less than the minimum the Palestinians can accept.”
The Middle East may be a raging wildfire, but the eyes of the world are on the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace dance — that all-too-familiar game where the Jewish state makes concessions (such as releasing terrorists) for the privilege of talking to an enemy who demonizes Jews, glorifies terrorists and has already rejected three peace offers.
I saw two opposite ends of Jewish tolerance last Friday night in Jerusalem’s Old City. As I walked through the Jaffa Gate on my way to a Shabbat dinner, I noticed some black-hatted Charedim kicking a taxicab while yelling, “Shabbos, Shabbos!”
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.
We now join U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry lying on the couch in his therapist’s office:
Every time I turn around, I hear about a new app that promises to make my life easier, get somewhere faster, find things quicker. This is the golden calf of the digital era: speed. We’re desperate for any clever gizmo that will make things go quicker — including our brains.
If there’s one thing the Palestinians are great at, it’s saying no. For years now, many peace-loving Jewish heads have been bruised from banging against the brick wall of Palestinian rejectionism.
Sharon Nazarian has a mysterious quality about her. I’ve bumped into her occasionally over the years, but never long enough to have a real conversation. I always knew she was highly educated and a big lover of Israel, and that a few years ago she founded the groundbreaking Nazarian Center for Israel Studies at UCLA, where she also teaches political science.
I never thought I’d ever sit around a Shabbat table talking about bulls---, a word we don’t usually print in the Journal. But there I was recently at my friend David Brandes’ house, sitting across from the prominent philosopher and former Princeton University professor Harry Frankfurt, author of “On Bullshit” (2005).
As we witness the latest attempts to restart the comatose peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, we heard last week about the shutting down of Better Place, the much-ballyhooed Israeli venture that aimed to revolutionize the world of electric cars.
You know things are getting rough for President Barack Obama when even The New Yorker, that bastion of liberal thought, starts ridiculing him. Reacting to how the president is distancing himself from his administration’s three emerging scandals—the mishandling of the embassy attack at Benghazi, the targeting of a right-wing group by the IRS and press snooping by the Department of Justice -- the magazine’s resident humorist, Andy Borowitz, wrote a post on its Web site titled, “Obama Denies Role in Government.”
There was so much Jewish outrage last week in the wake of Professor Steven Hawking’s decision to join the academic boycott against Israel, it’s hard to know where to start.
In a crummy economy, people are always looking for good investments — a promising stock, a real estate opportunity, a star mutual fund. It’s really not that different in the “mitzvah economy”— donors and do-gooders are also looking to squeeze the maximum amount of goodness out of every charity investment.
For over 30 years, starting in the early 1960s, Monty Hall hosted “Let’s Make a Deal,” one of the most popular game shows in television history. He was not only the show’s impresario, he created and produced it, and today, at 91, he is still involved with its creative evolution.
Criticism is the oxygen of journalism. Here at the Jewish Journal, we will criticize anything that we believe deserves criticism, including religion.
“My father’s Jewish, my mother’s Jewish, I’m Jewish.” Those are the words uttered by American journalist Daniel Pearl in the moment before he was murdered by jihadis in 2002. Those same words were recalled last week by Judea Pearl as he lit a flame in his son’s honor in Jerusalem.
Apparently, there are smart people out there who still believe it’s up to Israel to revive the dead Middle East peace process.
The Holocaust is really too big and too dark to fathom. It’s larger than life, larger than death, even larger than evil. The human mind can’t quite comprehend an evil that wants to destroy a whole race of humans — and succeeds in destroying about a third of it.
Words matter, especially when spoken by people of power. I once read a book that dissected the 271 words of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Would that speech have become historic if, instead of phrases like “a new birth of freedom,” he had used phrases like “a reaffirmation of our values”?
Judaism is a religion that likes symbols. The Passover Seder table is full of them: There’s the salt that can represent tears or bitterness, the wine as metaphor for blood, the unleavened matzah as a symbol for humility, and so on.
It’s a sure sign of nervousness when people start using the vocabulary of absolute certainty — when they refuse to allow for even the possibility of debate.
If you think the West Bank settlements have been an albatross around Israel’s neck up until now, brace yourself. With the new governing coalition announced this week, and the settlers enjoying even more power, all bets are off.
The traditional approach to Jewish outreach — especially on college campuses — is to make it as easy as possible for Jews to get involved: free classes, free admission, no obligations, no memberships.
Are you one of those Jews who got offended by Seth MacFarlane's "Jews control Hollywood" shtick at the Academy Awards last Sunday night? And do you agree with Anti-Defamation League (ADL) leader Abe Foxman's statement that MacFarlane's attempt at humor was "sad and disheartening" because it "reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism"?
Is it possible to build Jewish pride in a very short period of time, like, say, at one dinner party? Seriously, how can you instill a love of Judaism in the time it takes to watch a Lakers game? And how do you do that without being overly preachy or superficial?
Pick a Jewish holiday, any holiday. Let’s take one of my favorites: Sukkot. This is a holiday bursting with meaning. Inside a sukkah, we can experience the fragility of life and appreciate some great Jewish values, such as gratitude, modesty and hospitality.
While the Jewish world has focused for decades on the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has given far less attention to an equally important conflict: the conflict between Judaism in Israel and Judaism in America. Everywhere I turn, I see more signs of the growing religious schism between these two communities.
As any news junkie will tell you, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for defense secretary, didn’t do very well at his Senate confirmation hearings last week. Our own political editor, Shmuel Rosner, not known for hyperbole, called his performance “terrible.”
How can a dubious and unoriginal Israeli movie become the darling of the film world and even get nominated for an Academy Award?
Regardless of what kind of coalition a bruised and humbled Prime Minister Netanyahu shapes in the new government, the prospects for peace will depend less on his government’s actions and more on the sentiments of Israel’s neighborhood.
I don’t often write about the same subject in consecutive weeks, but because my “Birthright Shabbat” column last week elicited an unusual amount of feedback, I thought I’d share some of it with you, as well as build on the idea.
How do we keep Jews connected to their Judaism and prevent the further erosion of Jewish identity in American Jewry? It’s a simple question, but it’s the defining issue of our time — the one that preoccupies Jewish community leaders perhaps more than any other.
Money has a way of dominating issues. This is true of politics and presidential elections, and it’s also true of Jewish education. Just say the words “Jewish education,” and the first word you’ll typically hear is “unaffordable.”
When something happens that overwhelms our emotions - as when a shooter murders 20 schoolchildren in cold blood- we get dizzy and out of balance. The shock and horror are too much to take.
There’s been a lot of talk in our community lately about this notion of “balance,” particularly around the question of whether Israel supporters should balance their support for Israel with empathy for the enemy.
It’s never a good thing to look like a loser. That applies to countries as well as people. Consider Israel, a winning country on so many fronts: It’s on the cutting edge of high tech, turns deserts into farmlands, wins awards at film festivals and boasts one of the liveliest, most open societies in the world.
As the missiles were flying last week between Israel and Gaza, verbal missiles were flying between two prominent Jews: Rabbi Sharon Brous in Los Angeles and Rabbi Daniel Gordis in Jerusalem.
As I’ve been watching images of Hamas rockets falling on Israel, I’ve asked myself: If Hamas had the ability to murder thousands of Jews, wouldn’t they? And if Israel didn’t have a strong army, wouldn’t we surely witness another pogrom?
If you’ve ever been to one of those giant auto shows where hundreds of gleaming new car models are lavishly displayed in a convention hall the size of Montana, you’ve got an idea of what it felt like last Sunday morning when I entered the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly (commonly known as the “GA”), which is being held this year at the Baltimore Convention Center.
As I write this, I still don’t know who’s won the presidency. But by the time you read this, barring an Electoral College tie, you certainly will know.
One thing that bugs me about democracy is how it favors the old and shafts the young. While the older generation gets to vote in huge numbers, tens of millions of citizens younger than 18 are frozen out of the process. Since these kids have no right to vote, they have no say in choosing a candidate who will best serve their future.
With Christians being persecuted and threatened across much of the Middle East, guess which country the leaders of several major U.S. Christian denominations have decided to pick on?
One of the reasons I love sports is that I can indulge my primal instinct for combat without feeling any guilt. I’m a huge Lakers fan, and I can easily spend hours poring through analyses of how the team will clobber the competition this year with the addition of two fearless warriors.
Is it possible to be religiously not religious? That question came to me the other day when I asked a friend what his synagogue plans were for the coming Holy Days.
It’s not exactly true that Jews have nothing to do with the controversy surrounding the anti-Islam video that has sparked riots in the Muslim world, along with a furious debate about the limits of free speech.
How many of us have been going around during these Days of Repentance apologizing to those we have wronged during the past year? Be honest. Have you made your list of the people you have hurt and the offenses that have hurt them? When you have apologized, have you settled for the classic cop-out: “If I have hurt you in any way, please forgive me”? Or have you simply asked for mechilla — forgiveness — and moved on?
Is it possible to take a holiday like Rosh Hashanah, which focuses so strongly on human affairs, and apply it to a nonhuman thing, like, say, a community paper? On the surface, this doesn’t make sense: Everything about Rosh Hashanah is about what we do as humans — taking stock of our behavior, repenting for our sins and renewing ourselves for the coming year.
How do you talk about Judaism in a way that’s not too “Jewish”? How do you convey Jewish ideas to Jews who might get turned off by religious ideas? Is it possible, in other words, to talk about the Jewish religion in a nonreligious way?
One of the most moving letters you’ll read this year was written by Irwin Cotler, a Canadian member of parliament, to the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, imploring him to hold a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago at the Munich Olympics.
When it comes to criticizing Israel, liberal supporters of Israel routinely quote the Jewish value of self-criticism. Try telling a pro-Israel critic the following:
“Have any of you all met Paul Ryan? I’m telling you this guy is amazing. He is honest; he is straightforward; he is sincere; and the budget he came forward with is just like Paul Ryan. It is a sensible, straightforward, honest, serious budget.”
There are two ways to look at the Obama administration’s decision to exclude Israel from its global anti-terrorism initiative. If you recall, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Istanbul last month to convene the Global Counterterrorism Forum, the group of invitees included 29 countries and the European Union -- but not Israel.
It's one thing to feel holiness when you enter a synagogue on Shabbat or a holy day. You go in expecting holiness. You expect that the rabbi's sermon will inspire you; that you will have a spiritual experience and connect with God.
As I was reading about how America is now borrowing $250 million an hour just to stay afloat, I thought of something that my 79-year-old mother did recently at the Pico Glatt Mart. She had just flown in from Montreal, and when I told her we were expecting 20 people the following night for Shabbat, she suggested we go right to the market and not waste any time.
In case you haven’t heard, Orthodox Judaism has pretty much taken over Jewish life on U.S. college campuses. I say this not because I’m smug and happy about it, but as a wake-up call to the Conservative and Reform branches to get their acts together.
It’s tempting to look at the latest crisis in Israel — over whether the Charedim should serve in the military — as pitting religion against the state. Just look at some of the comments from both sides. On the fervent religious side, Shas spiritual leader Ovadia Yosef has declared a state of emergency. In his weekly sermon on July 7, as reported in Ynet, the rabbi is quoted as saying.
There is an obvious way to respond to author Alice Walker’s refusal to allow her novel “The Color Purple” to be translated into Hebrew. In case you missed it, Walker accused Israel of being “guilty of apartheid and persecution of the Palestinian people, both inside Israel and also in the Occupied Territories.”
Last week, I started writing a column about John Sullivan, a former drug and alcohol addict who restarted his life, thanks to Beit T’Shuvah. But then I got interrupted by another great story, in a documentary called “Paul Williams: Still Alive,” directed by my friend Steve Kessler. I wasn’t planning to write about the film — until I saw a packed house at the Nuart on Saturday night give it a standing ovation.
For a man who runs a mortuary and memorial park that arranges about 1,500 funerals a year, Len Lawrence spends a lot of his time thinking about the living. In particular, he thinks about those who have suddenly lost a loved one and are caught completely unprepared for the many decisions that revolve around the ritual of burial.
As I was reading Dennis Prager’s new book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” I found myself increasingly frustrated. The words themselves didn’t bother me; rather, it was that silly contraption I was holding in my hands, what’s known as a Kindle.
Mainstream American Judaism, in a desperate attempt to remain relevant in a wide-open and freewheeling culture, has kicked open all its doors and windows, and at least one Jew is not happy. Jack Wertheimer, professor of American Jewish history at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, has hit back with a stinging essay in Commentary called “The Ten Commandments of American Jews.”
One of the biggest and most obvious challenges in raising Jewish awareness and building Jewish connection is finding ways of getting your point across. Every week, across Los Angeles, there are hundreds of classes and sermons that aim specifically to do that: get a Jewish point across. This could be a Shabbat sermon on the parasha of the week, or weekday classes on raising Jewish children, improving your marriage, refining your character, connecting to Jewish peoplehood and so on.
I have a feeling that several years from now, as the movement to strengthen Jewish connection in America accelerates, the coolest night of the year will be Shavuot.
One of the more brazen initiatives in the Jewish world today is Peter Beinart’s call, in his book “The Crisis of Zionism,” to boycott anything produced in the Jewish settlements of Judea and Samaria (commonly known as the West Bank). In his view, the settlements must be stopped because they are encroaching on a future Palestinian state that is necessary for the survival of a Jewish and democratic Israel.
Can you “sell” Judaism in a few minutes? This question came up in a piece in The Forward by Leonard Fein, who was commenting on a recent debate in New York City between Daniel Gordis and Peter Beinart. In the debate, as Fein quotes, they were asked this question: “Both of you have written about the tragedy of young American Jews who have no connection to Judaism and the fate of the Jewish state. So let’s say you were stuck in an elevator with one of the people from that demographic, and you had two minutes to sell them about why they should re-engage with Jewishness and Zionism and the Jewish people. What would you say?”
Just because the truth is difficult to ascertain, does that mean it doesn’t exist? Is it as simple as saying that, in any debate, we each own a piece of the truth, but no one actually owns the whole truth? And is that a cop-out?
Sometimes the best way to appreciate something is to imagine its absence. This can apply to a lot of things: people we love, books we cherish, restaurants we frequent, music we enjoy, pets we adore and, yes, even Jewish community papers we look forward to reading every week.
It's common knowledge that the Bible is the “greatest book ever written.” No other book can match its power or wide appeal; no other book has been as studied, analyzed or debated. It’s the literary gift that keeps on giving, the book of books, the book for all eternity.
Why would a thriving, diverse and boisterous Jewish community with a large Israeli population forgo an annual festival that celebrates the birth of Israel? As unlikely as it sounds, this is precisely what happened last year: For the first time in more than 20 years, the Israel Independence Day Festival that had become a signature event for our community got canceled.
Meirav Finley believes that she “complements” her husband, Rabbi Mordecai Finley, leader of the independent Ohr HaTorah synagogue in West Los Angeles. In her view, the rabbi is the deep, spiritual, brilliant teacher and synagogue leader, while she is the creative and practical partner who helps implement and promote his vision.
It’s fashionable to look at Passover as a universal idea. This makes sense; after all, how much more universal can you get than the theme of human freedom? Also, it’s a lot easier these days to be outer-directed and feel outrage at injustice.
After spending three days at the J Street conference in Washington, D.C., and hearing one speaker after another talk about the importance of a two-state solution, I’ve come to the conclusion that Jews are blessed with two attributes...
Whoever said that women are not leaders in the Charedi world has never heard about the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT). The college, founded in 1969 as a scientific institution for Torah-observant Jews, has 3,800 students, about a third of whom are Charedim.
I never thought I’d ever be texting with one of my kids about bombs and bomb shelters. But there I was last week, texting back and forth with my daughter, Shanni — who is studying at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and was driving with friends to a Purim event in the south when Palestinian bombs started falling.
It’s amazing the kind of stuff you hear when you just ask. At a family wedding last weekend in Montreal, I caught up with some relatives and heard family stories worthy of a mystery thriller.
Imagine being the mother of one of the U.S. soldiers murdered last week in Afghanistan in retaliation for the burning of Korans on a U.S. military base there. First, you discover that the Korans had already been desecrated by the jihadist prisoners themselves...
I’ve always been fascinated by romantic relationships that seem to last forever. When I hear of couples who remain deeply in love after 40, 50, 60 years of marriage, I imagine the thousands of meals they’ve shared together, the thousands of shared conversations, road trips, stories, arguments, conflicts, moments of silence, even moments of boredom that must come from knowing someone so well you can predict their every move.
For several years now, critics of Israel have been claiming that liberalism and democracy are in “crisis” in Israel. It’s what historian Gil Troy calls the “reddening of Israel, dismissing the Jewish state as a right-wing, religious, Republican project, increasingly foreign to cultured, blue-state Democrats.”
“Leon Klinghoffer’s blood cries out from the depth of the ocean,” the 23-year-old law student told the Israeli Supreme Court in 1995. “We will not withdraw our complaint.”
Being a weekly columnist while visiting Israel can be really stressful. Every hour or so, you get hit with a potential subject for a column. After a few days now in the Holy Land, I have no clue how to pick from this embarrassment of riches. So let’s go on a mini-tour of some of those difficult choices.
Negative stereotypes can be numbing. One that has dulled our senses for years is that Jews and Arabs can’t get along. Many of us simply take it for granted. Read haaretz.com regularly, and you might even conclude that Israel’s Arab population is living miserably under an apartheid-like regime.
It’s a fight to the death: As the digital revolution marches on, and more and more people do their reading on user-friendly digital devices, the end of paper’s 500-year reign seems to be at hand.
It never occurred to me that I’d have to visit the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail to get a deeper understanding of the Charedi crisis in Israel. I call it a crisis because, in my mind, anything that makes the Jewish religion look really bad is a crisis.
What do you do when you run out of money? When you’re about to be evicted from your home, or having trouble feeding your kids, or simply can’t afford the basic necessities of life? What happens, also, when you can’t afford certain things you consider crucial — like sending your children to a Jewish day school?
"The Palestinian people does not exist,” exclaimed the politician. The audacity of the statement shocked me, because it came from the mouth of Zahir Muhsein, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, in a 1977 interview with a Dutch newspaper.
Adam Ungar was a happy kid who loved to ski and play the piano. He was a regular at his local synagogue, and he always looked forward to spending the holidays with his grandparents, who lived an hour away by train. Adam and his younger sister, Helen, would often go horseback riding while visiting with their bubbe and zayde.
“I came to see a clash!” the man bellowed from the back of the audience. “Instead, all I’m seeing tonight is two people getting along.”