Religion. Within the parameters of Judaism it can mean many things.
From the usual labels we use to cover the gamut of observance -- Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist -- there are whole worlds in between: Orthodox can be affiliated with Chasidic, black hat, Chabad, Aish HaTorah, Carlebach or Young Israel, to name just a few. Conservative can be Conservadox, Egalitarian, JTS, Sabbath observant, drive only to shul, etc. Reform can mean once-a-year High Holiday Jews or the "New Reform Observant Jew," who is observant but far from Orthodox ("Reform Reforms," Jewish Journal, May 20).
A person's origins also come into play, whether it's Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Israeli, Persian, Russian, Iraqi, Dutch, German and all the places in the Diaspora the Jews traveled to in thousands of years of exile, where they picked up new traditions and customs and made them part of their heritage, much as we do in America today.
I, for one, am from Eastern European origins -- primarily Polish, although my last name is Hungarian (which means that only some of our rooms had chandeliers). I grew up in New York "Modern Orthodox." (We were so modern we used cars and telephones and faxes and radios.) But I'm not sure the Modern Orthodoxy I grew up with even exists today, just as the Modern Orthodoxy my parents grew up with in the 1950s had faded by the time I was born.
This is the beauty of the Jewish religion. It is forever changing, yet always true to its essence. In the book of Leviticus, God tells the children of Israel, "You should keep My statutes and My laws, which if a man obeys, he shall live through them [v'chai bahem]."
"We shall live through them" is the challenge of the Jewish religion: How do we integrate the holy, the spiritual, the communal with the daily?
As The Jewish Journal's new religion editor, I will be covering the communal and spiritual life of Los Angeles' Jewish community, beginning with this monthly column, "Acts of Faith" -- because in the end, faith is what keeps all of us Jews, of all denominations, together.
Please send all materials related to synagogues, spiritual movements, holiday-related articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Synagogue Surf's Up!
Dolphins of Malibu get to enjoy Shabbat Services, too, as the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue has taken Friday night services to Zuma Beach, home of surfers and boogie boarders in Malibu.
Rabbi Judith HaLevy and Argentine Cantor Marcelo Gindlin have led these services for the past three years. And guess what? The dolphins have come to 11 out of 12 of the services, said Rabbi Judith, as she prefers to be called.
"They missed one Shabbos, which any congregant can miss," she told The Journal. "I think it means they are Jewish dolphins, or clearly they hear the sound of people praying or they have some kind of resonance -- it's uncanny."
The Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, a member of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation, has been in Malibu for the last 25 years. More than 100 people usually attend the summer beach services, coming from the valleys, Topanga and South Bay just in time to watch the sun begin its descent. People sit in a circle for the prayers and singing, which is followed by candle-lighting, story time for the children and Kiddush.
"I often ask people to just stand and listen to the sound of the waves for the 'Shema,'" Rabbi Judith said, "because the power of listening is really important, which is something we all rarely do."
The next beach services take place Aug. 19, and Sept. 9 and 16 at 7 p.m. at Westward Beach in Malibu (across from the Sunset Restaurant). Bring a pillow, blanket, sweatshirt and beach chairs.
For more information call Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue: (310) 456-2178 or surf to www.mjcs.org.
A New Life
Jewish Life, a glossy color monthly magazine serving the Torah-observant community in Los Angeles, published its first issue this month. Jewish Life will include in-depth features on Orthodoxy in Los Angeles, a calendar of events, a full-color social circuit section, divrei Torah and opinion columns. With a circulation of 10,000, the monthly magazine is distributed free at 250 locations in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, including synagogues, kosher restaurants and stores.
"Jewish Life doesn't replace coverage of the Orthodox community in our other publications, it enhances it," said Kimber Sax, COO of nonprofit Los Angeles Jewish Publications, Inc., which also publishes The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, Jewish Family of Conejo, Simi and West Valley and Jewish Family of Orange County.
The next issue of Jewish Life will be a back-to-school education-related issue, followed by a magazine dedicated to the High Holidays, Jewish Life Editor Emuna Braverman said.
"I hope that the magazine will become an important resource for Orthodox community events and information," said Braverman, a mother of nine who lives in the Pico-Robertson area.
Braverman, who holds both a law and psychology degree, started the educational program for Aish HaTorah in Los Angeles 22 years ago with her husband, Rabbi Nachum Braverman, and they both still work for the international organization. Braverman also teaches gourmet kosher cooking classes and is working on a kosher cookbook.
Rabbis from around the city serve on the advisory board of Jewish Life, including Moises Benzaquen, Gershon Bess, Asher Brander, Moshe Cohen, Daniel Korobkin, Yaakov Krause, Baruch Kupfer, Elazar Muskin, Yosef Shusterman, Avrohom Stuhlberger, Yitzchok Summers, Sholom Tendler, Yakov Vann, Steven Weil and David Zargari.
For more information, contact Emuna Braverman at email@example.com.
The Orthodox Union (OU) is accepting applications for its new Synagogue Grants Program, which will provide up to $20,000 apiece to five OU-affiliated shuls across North America to develop innovative programming.
The grants program will support a variety of activities, including leadership development, membership, fundraising, strategic planning, education, communal outreach, social service, youth programs and multimedia technologies. Activities may include discussion series, conferences, symposia, public forums and hands-on learning experiences that impact the lives of congregants.
Preference will be given to programs replicable in other synagogues and communities so that OU shuls can assist one another, said OU President, Stephen J. Savitsky. At least one of the grants will be reserved for smaller Jewish communities, as part of an emphasis to encourage Orthodox life outside of large cities, he said.
Applications are due by Sept. 26, 2005, for programs beginning in January. For more information, contact Frank Buchweitz, OU director of special projects, at (212) 613-8188, or firstname.lastname@example.org.