Jewish Journal

Esther D. Kustanowitz

  • Trashcan warrior wages a street fight with garbage

    1 day ago

    When it comes to civic activism, ordinary citizens can make a big difference: They just need patience, perseverance and, in one case, the willingness to deal with some garbage. Just ask Boaz Hepner, who has been on a lengthy campaign to punctuate Pico with trash receptacles.


  • Katie Piel: She kept hearing a message

    1 week ago

    On Nov. 9, about 12 hours after Donald Trump had won enough electoral votes to become the president-elect, the mood at a West Hollywood Starbucks was somber. Sullen strangers were exchanging supportive hugs. And in this raw moment, Katie Piel — there to be interviewed by the Jewish...

  • Fundraising to prevent cancer? It’s easy as pie

    November 10, 2016 | 11:17 am

    With the approach of Thanksgiving, a national nonprofit called Sharsheret is once again holding its Pies for Prevention fundraiser to raise awareness of and support for ovarian cancer programs through sales of holiday pies and cakes.

    The fundraiser, founded eight years ago by...

  • Hate speech in your social media feed? Try these tips

    October 27, 2016 | 12:02 pm

    Social media sites are tools with seemingly infinite potential. In the right hands, they can be a space of community connections and great comfort, but they also can be used to promote messages of hate.

    [Digital hate: After the election, will this be our new normal?]

    This is...

  • Digital hate: After the election, will this be our new normal?

    October 27, 2016 | 11:40 am

    It was February, right after the South Carolina Republican primary, and Donald Trump had been declared the winner. Bethany Mandel, a writer who usually focuses on politics and culture from a conservative perspective, was upset that Trump seemed to be emerging as a legitimate...

  • Things not to say to mourners (and some things you can do instead)

    October 10, 2016 | 11:21 am

    When friends announce on Facebook that a loved one needs prayers, or is in the hospital, or that they’re going through a hard time, I get a sinking feeling. And while recovery sometimes happens, sometimes, it doesn’t. So when I read, “I am heartbroken to announce …,” my heart...

  • Women rabbis: Progress made, but challenges remain

    September 30, 2016 | 4:14 pm

    Jewish women study to be spiritual leaders for the same reasons that their male colleagues do: to bring Torah learning and Jewish meaning to their communities. But the challenges many women rabbis have faced are different from those of their male colleagues. Their stories —...

  • Simanim: Signs of a new year

    September 29, 2016 | 2:48 pm

    No question that Rosh Hashanah is known as one of the most important holidays in the Jewish calendar, but it is not known for its comedy. If you look carefully among all the serious themes of starting over, forgiveness and repentance, however, you may find one New Year tradition...

  • Shimon Peres: Israel’s first social media president

    September 28, 2016 | 10:31 am

    If you’re like most people, you probably found out about the death of former President Shimon Peres on Facebook, through news articles, status updates from friends, and more photos of your friends with Peres than you might have expected. But what you may not realize is that...

  • Challah: Braiding our community together

    September 22, 2016 | 4:16 pm

    Start to finish, making challah is a multisensory, multilevel process: mixing ingredients into dough, taking time to let it rise, punching it down, letting it rise some more, separating the dough into balls, stretching the balls into ropes, weaving the ropes together, tucking the...

  • Conversion marked an important step on his pioneering path

    September 7, 2016 | 11:44 am

    Technically, Claudio Estrada Jr. became a Jew on March 9, 2015, but “spiritually inside,” he said, “I was a Jew a long time ago.”

    Between rounds of Jewish geography, Estrada shared his journey into Jewish life with the Jewish Journal in a Google hangout interview from his office...

  • How the Jews by choice experience can make us all better Jews

    August 31, 2016 | 10:47 am

    On a psychology test I took in seventh grade, we were asked to define a conversion disorder. Also called “functional neurological symptom disorder,” a conversion disorder is a condition in which a person’s psychological stress manifests as a physical problem.

    Of course, I...

  • Generosity in his veins: Fred Zaidman, prolific platelets donor

    August 17, 2016 | 3:42 pm

    Every day in hospitals, in fact every 2 seconds everywhere, according to the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion. Approximately 36,000 units of red blood cells, nearly 7,000 units of platelets and 10,000 units of plasma are needed daily.

    For the past...

  • ‘Sausage Party’: Where food meets faith (and the F-word)

    August 16, 2016 | 11:27 am

    A new movie out just last weekend focuses on the role of faith in our daily lives: Who shapes our beliefs and what do we do when confronted with facts that directly contradict our belief system? Do we reject faith or double down on embracing it, despite any looming truths? The...

  • In film and TV, you gotta have faith

    August 10, 2016 | 12:01 pm

    If I had to boil my life down to two main points of intellectual and personal interest, it would probably be Judaism and popular culture. And on July 29, I got to sit on a stage and talk about both at PURPOSE: The Family Entertainment & Faith-Based Summit sponsored by Variety...

  • IKAR’s progressive Shavuot learning experience

    June 16, 2016 | 8:52 am

    IKAR, a politically liberal Jewish community with a focus on social justice, went progressive in another sense during a June 11 Shavuot Torah study program. That’s when about 130 participants started at one member’s home and, over the course of the night, walked to the backyards of...

  • Engineering their future

    June 9, 2016 | 4:36 pm

    High School: Milken Community Schools
    Going to: George Washington University

    High School: Milken Community Schools
    Going to: Worcester Polytechnic Institute

    Miranda Milner and Austin Shalit have been friends since they were kids, and now...

  • Jew-by-choice Mandie Davis also chooses homeless children

    June 8, 2016 | 3:39 pm

    Mary “Mandie” Davis is passionate about a number of things: her husband, Ari Kadin, helping homeless children feel special and loved, and her Jewish identity.

    It’s estimated that nationwide, 2.5 million children are homeless. But thanks to considerable effort from Davis and Kadin...

  • On TV today, Jewish characters and themes come into their own

    April 20, 2016 | 3:01 pm

    The entertainment industry is famously full of Jews, from actors and writers to lawyers and studio heads. (We even have a Jewish-Israeli Wonder Woman now.) 

    But until recently, if you were watching television and wondering, “What are Jews like? What is meaningful to them?” you’d...

  • Finding meaning in Passover prep pain

    April 20, 2016 | 11:49 am

    The Passover story is steeped in language of slavery and redemption, a polarity that offers comfort through a narrative of progress. In our house, while we knew the historical significance and enjoyed telling the Passover story each year, sharing insights at seders with family and...

  • Of meat and metaphor: An almost-vegetarian makes brisket

    April 13, 2016 | 10:56 am

    I’m not a vegetarian, but since I moved to Los Angeles seven years ago, I’ve been eating less and less meat. Many of my friends are vegetarian or vegan, and cooking in either of those styles avoids a lot of food issues for people. 

    But around holidays, the expectation around meat...

  • Anat Hoffman, local rabbis discuss impact of Western Wall compromise

    March 16, 2016 | 1:59 pm

    At the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an Israeli government commission convened to consider how to be inclusive of more forms of Judaism at Jerusalem’s Western Wall — the Kotel — which has long been the domain of the Orthodox. The commission’s report represented, for...

  • Reconsidering Kaddish: Four new approaches to an old ritual

    February 3, 2016 | 1:15 pm

    “Yitgadal v’yitkadash...” the words of the Kaddish have echoed through synagogues for centuries, traditionally intoned by a Jewish man in mourning during a prayer service, with nine other men — at various points — interjecting an “amen.” But in this century, in various communities,...

  • Spiritual farming with Steven Wynbrandt

    January 20, 2016 | 4:39 pm

    In Los Angeles, Tu B’Shevat, the agrarian festival also known as the new year for trees, can easily pass unnoticed; after all, the time when the holiday falls — this year on Jan. 25 — is not one of seasonal change here. Some Jews will plant a tree or lift a ceremonial date or fig...

  • Petition against ex-rabbi Gafni gains Jewish community support

    January 6, 2016 | 2:59 pm

    In 2015, a film about journalists on the investigative team at the Boston Globe shone a light on abuse in the Catholic Church. Meanwhile, the Jewish community in 2015 read news of rabbinic abuse and scandal. And now, several articles are shining a fresh light on former rabbi Marc...

  • White House Chanukah

    December 16, 2015 | 10:00 am

    For years, I watched as friends and colleagues posted photos of the White House Chanukah party. The exclusive gathering brings together prominent rabbis, politicians and Jewish communal leaders, as well as young Jewish innovators with a certain hipness factor. 

    Still, no one is...

  • Lynn Schusterman: Making it possible for Jewish innovators to create

    December 4, 2015 | 12:23 pm

    Lynn Schusterman has been at every ROI Summit (see main article) since 2006 and at dozens of other Charles & Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation programs year round, to see for herself how her considerable investment in the Jewish future is yielding fruit. Schusterman can be as...

  • ROI local: The SoCal community members

    December 4, 2015 | 12:14 pm

    If you’re involved in the Los Angeles Jewish community, you’ve probably already encountered the work of local ROI Community members: They’re artists, communicators, community-builders, innovators and entrepreneurs working at many of our community programs and organizations, and on...

  • The ROI Community: Connecting and creating to shape the Jewish future

    December 4, 2015 | 11:25 am

    Innovation has become one of those buzzwords applied to ventures ranging from an educational technique to an iPhone app, from an environmental startup to an unusual approach to arts and culture. This wide definition, coupled with the word’s overuse, causes some to roll their eyes....

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

    November 18, 2015 | 1:11 pm

    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...