Jewish Journal

Esther D. Kustanowitz

  • ‘The Night Before’: A bromance with holiday cheer

    2 weeks ago

    Christmas may be the genre and red-and-green backdrop of “The Night Before” (in theaters Nov. 20), but at the film’s heart is the landscape of friendship as it begins to shift when people hit their 30s.

    Friends since childhood, Ethan (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Isaac (Seth Rogen) and...

  • New app to help users ‘advocate smarter’ for Israel

    November 5, 2015 | 10:53 am

    For those who are connected to “The Israel Conversation,” every event in the Holy Land — and every criticism that follows — can send shockwaves through our world. 

    Now a new app called Talk Israel hopes to help the pro-Israel community “advocate smarter,” as its App Store...

  • James Franco’s bar mitzvah spectacular

    October 20, 2015 | 10:00 am

    Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer has helped plenty of students prepare for bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies, and, in some ways, the one he officiated on Oct. 3 was no different. It involved months of serious study, a special bar mitzvah speech and even a mitzvah project.

    “It was like any...

  • Rooted in the land, creating contemporary community

    September 25, 2015 | 9:12 am

    Traditionally, the sukkah is a symbol of shelter, a shade from the elements, that simultaneously conveys both safety and impermanence. By building and sitting in a sukkah every year during the harvest holiday of Sukkot, Jews everywhere acknowledge this duality — creating the space...

  • Apologies in the age of #SorryNotSorry

    September 16, 2015 | 10:31 am

    By now, just about everyone knows the art of hashtags — a word or phrase preceded by a # sign used either to tag a conversation so people can easily follow it, or as a sarcastic and often deeply truthful commentary on the statement that had just preceded it. Some hashtags resonate...

  • Personal grief, national grief and how we remember

    September 8, 2015 | 5:35 pm

    It’s that time of year again, when I feel less like a citizen of Los Angeles and more like the New Yorker I was before my Western migration seven years ago. A look at the calendar, a clear blue sky, a helicopter circling overhead all cause an idiopathic pang that transports me back...

  • Michaela Watkins: A supporting player takes the lead

    September 8, 2015 | 1:49 pm

    If you’re one of those people who pays attention to supporting characters and comedy, you probably already know who Michaela Watkins is. She has been in the cast of “Saturday Night Live” (2008-09), as well as TV’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” “Enlightened” and “Trophy...

  • A-List stars return for ‘Wet Hot’ prequel

    July 29, 2015 | 11:10 am

    If you’re reading this, you probably already know some “camp people” — people who talk about camp in superlatives, elevating camp memories to the level of scripture: The time one camper convinced another that she was singing on a cassette tape, when it was really Suzanne Vega’s...

  • The Federation situation: The good, the bad and the ugly collide in online debate

    July 15, 2015 | 3:25 pm

    Last week, as the world wondered if an Iran nuclear agreement would be reached, the online Jewish world was being consumed by a different, but no less passionate debate: the role of Jewish Federations in today’s world.

    The conversation began with an online post in...

  • Comedy for Koby brings American comics to Israel

    July 1, 2015 | 3:07 pm

    Like many Jewish comedians in Los Angeles, Avi Liberman books club gigs, occasionally auditions for TV work and does “Jewish gigs” at synagogues and elsewhere.

    But in recent years, Liberman also has been spending a lot of his time planning trips to Israel.

    What makes his tours...

  • Sermons slammed to celebrate Sinai

    June 15, 2015 | 2:47 pm

    Becoming ourselves is a process. We learn what our family or friends find funny or valuable, and shape our identities accordingly, either to conform to, or in opposition to those norms and expectations. Teachers help us acquire skills, the basics of contemporary education, text...
  • ‘It’s a Girl Thing!’ helping to develop Jewish pride, identity

    June 3, 2015 | 1:57 pm

    It’s a precarious world for Jewish girls — in addition to the angst of adolescence, they are at risk for depression, eating disorders and risky behavior. And Jewish girls, post-bat mitzvah, also often drop out of Jewish life.

    But, for 3,500 Jewish girls across North America, a...

  • Double exposures of Rachael Rifkin’s family resemblance

    May 20, 2015 | 3:12 pm

    Have you ever looked at your family photos — really looked at them, noticing dimples, smirks or furrowed eyebrows — and seen yourself in the sepia tones? Writer Rachael Rifkin did, and took the idea of family resemblance one step further: restaging old family photos using herself...

  • 10 Torah-‘inspired’ bar/bat mitzvah themes

    May 15, 2015 | 1:24 pm

    The contemporary bar or bat mitzvah has become quite a production, but you can still create a spectacle that’s connected to substance. You can even let the Torah portion inspire you, so that your inappropriate excess is also informative and educational. (Well, sort of.)


  • 48 Herzl St.: Where ‘Israel Story’ highlights live

    May 13, 2015 | 2:40 pm

    Normal people’s stories are what fuel the “Israel Story” podcast, particularly the one about 48 Herzl St. (These highlights are culled from the reporter’s translation of the Hebrew podcast and the English version, recorded live at a recent New York event.)

    In Nahariya, 48 Herzl...

  • The Israeli story of ‘Sipur Yisraeli’

    May 13, 2015 | 2:33 pm

    Visionary Zionist Theodor Herzl’s dream of a Jewish state came true in 1948, when Israel won what became known as Milhemet HaAtzmaut, the War of Independence. Since then, Herzl has been honored with 54 Israeli streets named for him, more than any other leader in Israel’s history....

  • Morateinu Alissa Thomas-Newborn joins the clergy

    May 5, 2015 | 6:48 pm

    Despite her pioneering role as the first woman to serve as a clergy member in a Los Angeles Orthodox congregation, Alissa Thomas-Newborn plays down the novelty of her professional position in favor of how she fits into tradition. “Women have always been partners in Jewish life and...

  • A giant step for Orthodox women clergy

    May 5, 2015 | 6:32 pm

    At Shabbat morning services at B’nai David-Judea Congregation (BDJ) on May 2, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky took an extra-long pause before beginning his drash, the weekly address to the congregation. It was more than just the usual wait for the gathering to settle into silence; it was...

  • Glimpsing into Jewish Futures at Milken

    April 23, 2015 | 4:12 am

    How do you engage young Jews? Any of today’s Jewish professionals can tell you the broad strokes that sometimes sound like clichés: Meet them where they are; use culture as a gateway to connection.

    But maybe all you need is a smartphone.

    Three teenagers from Milken Community...

  • Talking tachlis with ‘YidLife Crisis’

    April 2, 2015 | 7:57 pm

    Two 30-something Jews sit in a restaurant, eating and bantering in sharp comedic bites. Their cadence is classically familiar, evoking influences from the Talmud to “Seinfeld” and the Borscht Belt; their arguments are essentially Jewish, centering on Jewish tradition, identity,...

  • Wisdom of layers: Reflections on the Collaboratory

    March 18, 2015 | 1:08 pm

    “What am I supposed to wear to a ranch?” 

    The “ranch” in question was the headquarters of the Leichtag Foundation, a major funder of Jewish and Israeli causes, headquartered in Encinitas, Calif. (in northern San Diego County). My snow-logged East Coast pals were consulting me on...

  • Ancient wisdom optimized for the digital age

    March 11, 2015 | 3:13 pm

    Nine presenters spoke TED-style on how ancient Jewish wisdom applies to creating opportunities for creativity and joy during a Feb. 22 Los Angeles kickoff event for Wisdom Tribe, a collective of Jewish educators and innovators providing digital and experiential learning...

  • Are there limits to humor?

    February 26, 2015 | 5:22 pm

    Scandals involving rabbis or celebrities, a massively destructive Web hack, Ebola, Middle East unrest, growing anti-Semitism in Europe, even ISIS — when it comes to brainstorming for Purim content, today’s Jews see every strange or terrifying story as comedic potential. In...

  • Coping with loss in the age of the internet

    September 10, 2013 | 4:47 pm

    When my mother, Shulamit E. Kustanowitz, died in May 2011, the in-person Jewish community provided all the basics — post-shivah meals, abundant hugs and three places to say Kaddish: Temple Beth Am for daily minyan, Friday nights at IKAR and Shabbat mornings at B’nai David-Judea....

  • Central Casting: A tashlich meditation

    September 8, 2010 | 2:02 am

    My shoes slip off, my feet sink into soft sand and then approach the sea, where they submerge and are washed. But even freshly emerged from water, they remind me that just because you’ve washed something doesn’t mean it’s truly clean.

    Rosh Hashanah marks the world’s birth...

  • ‘Bridas Touch’ — Some Don’t Feel the Magic

    February 19, 2009 | 2:59 am

    Weddings are magic. The details have come together according to plan. Two people have found each other and decided to spend their lives together, no matter what fate brings them. The bride looks like a queen; plus, she has special powers.

    On her wedding day, the Jewish bride has the...

  • Don’t panic!

    May 22, 2008 | 11:00 am

    My parents’ old car (a Ford LTD sedan, as I recall) had a red button affixed near the dashboard marked “Panic Button.” As soon as I learned what “panic” was, I asked the question: What happened if you pushed it? The answer: It was a gag button, so nothing happened. Maybe it was to...

  • Status symbol

    April 24, 2008 | 6:00 pm

    Status used to be about social hierarchy -- whether you made a good living or were born into the right family or had achieved prominence in your community. But these days, if you say the word "status" to Generation Single-and-Facebooking, you may be understood very differently.


  • What is chivalry?

    February 21, 2008 | 5:00 pm

    Once, I went out with this guy who was really traditional -- not Jewishly, but when it came to dating. He believed in chivalry: If we drove somewhere, he would always run around to my side and open the door, even though it took longer and I was perfectly capable of opening it...
  • The moment it dawned on me that being Jewish is important

    December 6, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    During the opening session for the Professional Leaders Project (PLP), a conference for young Jewish leaders, a man delivered inspirations via PowerPoint, asking us to consider the one "moment" that inspired us to connect to Jewish projects and commit to the Jewish professional...
  • Generation Next—a new vision for the Jewish future

    November 29, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    This speech, by writer/editor/blogger Esther D. Kustanowitz, was delivered at the 2007 General Assembly convened in Nashville by United Jewish Communities as part of the "Next Generation" plenary. At the plenary, a range of young Jewish and Israeli activists, bloggers, an...
  • Courting Forgiveness

    September 13, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    In this season of atonement, Jews of every stripe of observance stream into temples, synagogues, shteibels and shuls to recount their wrongs. Beating their breasts in repentance, they beg for absolution for the sins they have committed in their daily human interactions over the past...
  • Syndicating Purim

    February 22, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    Television shows traditionally wait until their 100th episode -- usually in their fifth year -- to syndicate. Although The Shushan Channel hasn't reached 100 episodes, after five years of creating comedy sketches best described as "pop-culture-meets-Purim,"...
  • Comedic Timing

    July 24, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    Occasionally someone -- usually my mother -- will ask me why I, a vibrant, intelligent, attractive and witty Jewish writer, am still single. And my answer has three parts: Jonathan Silverman, Ben Stiller and Jon Stewart. Each perfect for me in his own way: funny, cute, Jewish. Each...