Joanne Rocklin is obsessed with food. On her 60th birthday, she began summarizing her life with the essentials: "I love to cook. I love to eat". But it's her passion for writing that has enabled her to come to terms with her life and her faith.
There was a time when Jews dominated the ranks of American orchestras, and superstars like Leonard Bernstein and Isaac Stern were musical ambassadors to the world. The fact that today's master Jewish musicians tend to have proteges with names like Yo Yo Ma, Kyung-Wha Chung and Lang Lang is one hint that for many Jews, classical music is no longer a top priority.
Spain's Andaluca is romance. It's orange blossoms perfuming the air. It's golden drops of sherry sliding down your throat in a smoky bodega. It's fingers dancing on the strings of a flamenco guitar.
Spain's Toledo contains -- along with spires, damascene jewelry and scrumptious marzipan -- a treasure trove of Jewish memories.
In the wee small hours of Dec. 7, 2003, my husband and I got the phone call that every parent dreads. A matter-of-fact voice said, "This is UCLA Medical Center. Your son, Jeffrey, has been hit by a car. He's got at least a couple of broken bones, but he's alert and he's asking for you."
As I gasped, unable to take it all in, the voice added, "Your son was very lucky."
In 1939, as a child of 3, Sonia Levitin fled Hitler's Germany with her family. The first friend she made in the United States was a small African American girl. Nearly 50 years later, as a well-established writer of young adult fiction, Levitin won the National Jewish Book Award for "The Return" (Atheneum, 1987). This historical novel focuses on the plight of Ethiopian Jews, who consider themselves descendants of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. In tracing their perilous journey from Africa to Israel via Operation Moses in 1984, Levitin combined her long-standing interest in African culture with her own childhood memories of leaving her homeland behind.
Sherrill Kushner's crusade on behalf of the Santa Monica Public Library system began with her realization that Jews are the People of the Book.
When Julie Korenstein speaks out on environmental matters, she credits her mother, Dr. Pauline Furth, with shaping her own crusading spirit. Korenstein, who represents District 6 on the Los Angeles Unified School District's school board, said that throughout her life her mother has been "the most important influence on me personally."
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People insist that there's no such thing as a free lunch. But HaShalom, a small Sephardic Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson area, is offering local public school children exactly that. When students in grades K-8 arrive at HaShalom at the end of their secular school day, they enjoy a hot meal, courtesy of Haifa Restaurant. And along with the food, they receive, absolutely free, classes in Hebrew and Jewish tradition.
Dr. Stu Bernstein has spent 40 years with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) as an elementary school teacher, principal and cluster administrator for Westside schools. On the occasion of his retirement, he was recently feted by the Association of Jewish Educators, with proceeds going toward the Multicultural Scholarship fund he helped establish. The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ), formerly the National Conference of Christians and Jews, will give Bernstein its Humanitarian Award at an April 26 dinner.
Each November, Valley Beth Shalom holds a meeting at which its youth director urges parents to send their teenagers on a summer trip to Israel. In 1999, more than 100 families attended. This past November, there were only eight. The low turnout appears to reflect parental anxiety over safety issues in the Middle East. Lisa Kaplan, who heads The Jewish Federation's Israel Experience Program office, explains that "in times of peace, the students make the decision. In difficult times, the parents make the decision."
Back in October, 60 UCLA students learned that over winter break they would be going on the trip of a lifetime. They had been chosen from among hundreds of applicants to take part, virtually for free, in UCLA Hillel's Birthright Israel contingent. The Birthright program brings thousands of Jewish students to Israel for 10-day tours that encourage them to discover their own Jewish identity. The 1999 trip had received glowing reviews. But in December 2000, one-third of the UCLA slots were suddenly up for grabs.
Though many Jewish organizations, including The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Bureau of Jewish Education, prefer to remain officially neutral on Proposition 38, their members often have strong emotions pro and con.
Most Shabbat worshippers expect decorum. But Adat Ari El's new Jump-n-Jive minyan is different. Its founder, Aaron Kaychuck, describes the monthly Saturday morning service as "upbeat neo-Chassidic egalitarian." The service is unusual partly because it combines traditional Conservative liturgy with exuberant song and dance, set to the beat of an African hand-drum. It is also distinctive because Kaychuck, who leads the congregants in prayer, is 15 years old.
Among students, this is the time of year for new shoes, new backpacks and new haircuts. And schools approach September with fresh paint and revamped goals.
A highlight of the annual religious school educators conference sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education is always the presentation of the Lainer Awards. These cash awards, established in 1989, go to talented educators who help perpetuate Jewish traditions and values in a religious school setting. Most of the winners have an in-depth knowledge of Judaica, and have committed much of their professional lives to Jewish institutions.
Such is the case of Neal
'Tis the season when children in public schools face the December Dilemma. As part of a classroom lesson, Jewish youngsters may be given Christmas trees to color. During holiday music programs, they may find themselves acting in a nativity scene or singing "Silent Night." Santa Claus may show up on campus, passing out candy canes and asking them what they want for Christmas.
On the first day of school, when Barbara Gindi escorted her children to Maimonides Academy, she was appalled by what she saw: Two security guards stood out front, a Sheriff's squad car was parked at the curb, and the administrative staff was on high alert.
"It brought tears to my eyes," Gindi says. "Is this what our world is coming to?"
The subject arose over dinner in a neighborhood restaurant. Have you heard, asked a friend who's generally up on current affairs, that the new governor wants to open the University of California system to the top 4 percent of every high school graduating class? The implications seemed obvious: If 4 percent of the graduating seniors of every public high school in the state were to receive automatic admission to UC, this would be one more signal that diversity was being prized over quality. Why, we all wondered, was Gov. Gray Davis putting his clout behind the dumbing-down of a once-proud university? And, more to the point, what would happen to our own teenaged children? As parents, we had worked hard to enroll them in public schools with high standards and large numbers of high achievers. If our high school seniors didn't fall into the magic 4 percent, would they be out in the cold? Would they end up wishing they had gone to school in South Central instead of Santa Monica or Beverly Hills? As parents, as UC graduates, and as taxpayers, we were sorely perturbed.
Six years ago, Carol Solomon attended Yom Kippur services in Copenhagen. Flipping through the back of the English language prayerbook, she came upon a poem, translated from Hebrew, called "The Letter of the Ninety-Three Maidens." Based on an actual letter that was found after the Holocaust, it tells of young girls at a Jewish school in Cracow who took poison rather than allow themselves to be defiled by Nazi soldiers. Historians question the letter's authenticity. But for Solomon, "something about this story just captured my heart."
Among those who care about public education, "multiculturalism" is one of today's favorite buzzwords. But at the Community School, a magnet campus that falls under the auspices of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the concept of multicultural education has been in place for 25 years.
Israeli-Palestinian coexistence and how to achieve it: That was the topic on everybody's lips when the 24th Annual Academic Conference convened at the Century Plaza Hotel last weekend. The panel, sponsored by American Friends of the Hebrew University, was followed by a luncheon featuring keynote speaker Dennis Prager, the KABC radio host best known for his "Religion on the Line" program.
Joel Grishaver, everybody's favorite hip Jewish uncle, had been up half the night, schmoozing with a rabbi's son who was visiting from England. So when Grishaver answered the phone at 6:30 a.m., he was hardly prepared for the voice that said, "You and I have a date for lunch in Washington on Sept. 15. You've just won the Covenant Award."
Imagine that it is 1940, and Great Britain is fighting Hitler's Nazi Germany almost alone. Imagine, further, that an American who loves both America and England and hates the Nazis works in American intelligence and has access to secret files concerning Germany that, for whatever reason, the United States has not shared with Great Britain. This American gives the secrets to England and is caught.
The rabbis-in-training were making the rounds at UCLA Medical Center. They stopped at bedsides to chat with patients, to inquire about their needs, to offer prayer and consolation. Then, unexpectedly, the sight of wires, tubes and surgical dressings took its toll. One student rabbi fainted.
What do Jewish educators think about Jewish parents?
My daughter flew home for Thanksgiving with two college friends in tow. At the dinner table, the conversation revolved around computers and the antics of the Stanford Band. At some point in the course of that whirlwind four-day visit, Hilary informed me that, though she's been diligently studying Hebrew since she started college, a Junior Year Abroad at Hebrew University is no longer part of her plans. It's not that she's changed her mind about someday returning to Israel, where she spent an amazing summer two years ago. But she's convinced that, given the stringent requirements of the high-tech major she seems to have settled on, even a semester in Jerusalem would derail her progress toward her degree.
Ethan Gura doesn't remember his sister. Still, he cannot forgether. He can't forget that Rebecca Alexandra Gura died in 1991 after afour and a half year battle with leukemia. She was then six yearsold. He was three.
My 25th wedding anniversary iscoming up fast. Wish me luck.
During that first weekend, we found nourishmentfor all parts of our Jewish psyches. Religious services weretraditional but encouraged participation: I had my first-ever aliyahthere. The camp's weekend scholar-in-residence gave us grown-upsserious food for thought. The children had their own programs, but weall came together for a wild and wacky Saturday-night carnival and aSunday Maccabiah in which points were awarded for ruach (a favoriteRamah word, meaning "spirit") as well as for athletic skill. And, ofcourse, some lazy hours were reserved for swimming, snoozing andschmoozing. After all this, it was hard to go home.
In the 1950s, young women knew their place. "You are who you marry" was the gist of the covert message that mothers passed on to their daughters. And Sara Lee, having graduated from college with a degree in social relations and a burning passion for Zionism, was quite content to put her skills to work in support of her new husband's medical studies. She could never have guessed that on a June day in 1997, she'd be standing on top of Mount Scopus, accepting an honor reserved for the crème de la crème of the Jewish educational world.
Fortunately for Elisa, she landed in a caring and effective public-school program, which taught her to make the most of her abilities. But Lora was determined that her child also have the opportunity to learn about her Jewish heritage. She found that opportunity at Shaare Tikva.
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What is there about klezmer music that sends feet flying and excitement levels of certain Jewish audiences soaring? Nostalgia for the past or a just-found fondness for a "new" music"? Whatever it is, when the klezmer band struck up a "Freylach," almost instantly, a woman in a red baseball cap jumped to her feet, raised her arms to the sky and began bouncing joyfully to the music. She was quickly joined by someone in a jaunty straw hat and a T-shirt emblazoned with the word "Danceaholic." Soon, there was an impromptu circle of happy bouncers -- young and old -- stepping lively under the warm California sun.