One question I’m often asked is, “How do you come up with different stuff every week? Don’t you ever run out of material?” In response, I usually just shrug and make a slight grimace, as if to say, “Yeah, it ain’t easy.” But the truth is, my problem is the exact opposite: I usually have too many stories to choose from. For every one you see, I have to pass on several others — often really good ones. This is the curse and delight of covering the Jewish world: There are too many stories!
This past week was especially crazy — story ideas came from everywhere and just piled up. I found it extremely difficult to just choose one. So, as a change of pace, I thought I’d try something different. Instead of scuba diving into one story, let’s snorkel and sample some of the story ideas that came my way:
1. Unanswered prayers. It struck me during Yom Kippur, as the rabbi was urging us to ask God for all the things we need — strength, courage, health, prosperity, peace, romance, etc. — that some of us might be thinking: I prayed for the same things last year and got very little. Interestingly, at the conclusion of the prayers, right before Neilah, the rabbi made a special plea for someone who needs a bone marrow transplant: He asked us to come get our salivas tested the following day to see whether one of us might be a match. So which one is it, Rabbi — God or us? And if it’s us, then what are we asking God for? Hmm, that might make for a good column, I thought.
2. At a Coffee Bean in West Hollywood, I had a chance encounter with a man named Aaron Cohen. Who is he? Just your typical Beverly Hills Jewish boy who decided in the mid-1990s that he wanted to become an Israeli commando. After 15 months of grueling training, he joined a top-secret unit of commandos who enter enemy territory and disguise themselves as Arabs to abduct terrorist leaders and bring them back to Israel. He learned Hebrew and Arabic and, for three years, participated in dozens of life-or-death missions, including infiltrating a Hamas wedding to abduct a terrorist. He now runs a security firm in Los Angeles. After a great schmooze, he gave me a copy of his autobiography, “Brotherhood of Warriors,” which I have no doubt will soon be a screenplay in development.
3. Kids of Courage: Another chance encounter, this time at the Museum of Tolerance with Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, who told me, “You must talk to my son about his new organization.” A few days later, I’m at another Coffee Bean, having coffee with Ari Adlerstein, who is showing me on his laptop a small film about Kids of Courage, a nonprofit he co-founded a couple of years ago that takes kids who are physically handicapped — often in wheelchairs — on adventure trips like skiing and to Disneyland. The work is enormously time consuming because of the logistics, medical supervision and fundraising involved, but Ari and his team have developed a 100 percent volunteer model that includes getting big discounts from airlines, hotels and other suppliers. They now serve hundreds of kids throughout the year, giving them a taste of adventure many of us take for granted.
4. The Lone Soldier Center: There are thousands of Jews from the Diaspora who go to Israel to volunteer in the Israel Defense Forces. Many have no family or social network in Israel, so when they’re on leave, they can use a little help and emotional support. I had lunch last week with Tziki Aud, a man who devotes his life to these “lone soldiers.” He got the idea for his center after one of the soldiers he had “adopted,” Michael Levin, was killed in the Second Lebanon War. Aud choked up when he told me the story. Named in memory of Levin, the center has expanded to include comprehensive services like housing, food, social services, emotional counseling, education and tools for transitioning back to civilian life. Aud was in town to do fundraising.
5. There were two more possible stories in events I attended: a tribute to the Croatian president at UCLA Hillel in honor of the decades of progress that have occurred for the Jewish population of Croatia, and the annual gala for CECI (Citizens Empowerment Center of Israel) that featured as guest of honor Deputy Foreign Minister of Israel Danny Ayalon, who has been all over the news lately because of the peace talks.
I’m not including other possible stories from last week, like one on author and radio host Michael Medved, who came to my house for a documentary shoot, or the wild night when my mother cooked a Moroccan meal for 20 Ashkenazic guests in our sukkah.
You get the picture: lots of stories. I have come to see everyone I meet as a possible subject for a column. The truth is, they all are. We each have a story to tell; some are more dramatic than others, but there’s always a story.
Maybe having stories is the one thing we can be sure God will provide for us every year.