For interfaith couples who choose a Jewish identity for their families — even ones who have shared holidays with their extended families and answered questions for years — a bar or bat mitzvah raises new questions.
Robert Leeds’ bar mitzvah party last February was something special. During the cocktail hour, Cirque du Soleil entertainers roller-skated on a half-pipe. The celebration — which had a British invasion theme with English guards, a teahouse and traditional pub food — also featured Leeds playing electric guitar with a Beatles tribute band and participating in a breakdance routine with his brothers, Jonathan and Andrew, and an ensemble of dancers.
A wedding that costs $100,000? A bar mitzvah that costs $20,000? When did extravagance and luxury become such primary Jewish values? I can’t remember the last simcha (Jewish celebration) I attended at which there were not tremendous amounts of wasted food, overly expensive napkins and bands large enough for a royal banquet.
More than 70 years after the beginning of Hollywood's Golden Age, when talkies became the rage and Jews routinely Anglicized their names, film factories are playing up the Jewish angle by hosting some of the largest and most unique b'nai mitzvah parties in town.
While many children of bar mitzvah age are unable to grasp all that their newfound responsibilities entail, each one recognizes the occasion as an important turning point in their lives as Jews.
For Daniel and Lauren, becoming authors has also meant serving as peer educators.
"I told my friends that I wrote a book about the Holocaust, and at least three of them didn't know what it was," said Daniel. Lauren had a similar experience.
If you're the type of person who likes gift giving, especially treats from your kitchen, then you probably look forward to the holiday as much as my family does. I especially enjoy the making of hamantashen. Holiday cookbooks are full of poppy seed, prune, chocolate, and even jelly-filled recipes.
As life would have it, the term of tranquility is short, but we can emerge from these times strengthened both physically and spiritually.
Unlike my Pesach in Argentina, where we had to walk through metal detectors to enter the five-star hotel in Patagonia, this Rosh Hashanah service was open to anybody and everybody, bringing together quite an eclectic mix of travelers.
Not too long ago, some Jewish mothers and I were discussing our kids' upcoming b'nai mitzvah. We were wondering how to tame the ever-escalating, three-ring circus that the parties have become. I have a feeling that back when the laws were written, our ancestors didn't anticipate financially disastrous theme parties, DJs with barely clad dancers, stiltwalkers, karaoke machines and make-your-own-T-shirt booths.
I thought I had struck social gossip gold when my friend Paula let slip a delicious bit of intelligence straight into my eager ears. But as it turns out, Benjamin Franklin was right: 'Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.'
On Jan. 25, 1997, my oldest son, Zachary, became a bar mitzvah, a ceremony that inaugurated him into the Jewish community as a responsible young adult. It also catapulted me into the world of Jewish journalism as a family columnist. Call it writing therapy. Call it black humor. Dealing with the bar mitzvah preparations -- from the trivial to the transcendent -- sent me scrambling for books explaining the ritual's history and meaning.
Imagine all the "Cheaper By the Dozen" kids grown up, married and with kids of their own. That's my family. My mom is one of a dozen, and I'm one of the children of the dozen. And maybe not that surprisingly, my mom chose to have only two children (me and my brother) and my husband and I limited our brood to three.
Parents and pundits, you may breathe a sigh of relief. The Class of 2006 -- or at least The Jewish Journal's not-so-random sampling of the class of 2006 -- will put to rest any notion that this plugged in but wireless, overscheduled but doted upon and supersavvy but still so naive iPod generation is resting on a sense of inflated entitlement.
Events in Los Angeles: 30th annual Celebration of Life Faces of Hope Benefit gala, honoring the City of Hope's bone marrow transplant (BMT) program; the annual United Hostesses' Charities (UHC) 64th annual Membership Luncheon and Fashion Show; the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) Entertainment Industry Awards; speech by former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Moshe Ya'alon; 11th annual Los Angeles Public Library Awards Dinner; West Coast Supporters of Yeshiva University (YU) dinner
New Jew opened in 2002 at the Milken campus of The Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance, with 40 students in the ninth grade and Dr. Bruce Powell, veteran founder of successful Jewish high schools, at the helm. This year, 47 students who took the chance and dove head first into a new venture are graduating. The school was a risk that paid off.
Herman Katz has begun to grow weary of hearing and seeing his own name. A humble 73-year-old who has taught and counseled in Los Angeles public schools since 1957, he has been living in the limelight since one of his former students, Antonio Villaraigosa, became mayor last year.
Selecting an environmental mitzvah project is a good starting point. But consider adding eco-friendly substitutes for white plastic tableware, Styrofoam centerpieces, Mylar balloons and elaborate banners. Are your invitations printed on recycled paper with soy-based inks?
A Few Purim Celebrations
Letters to the Editor
Five hunks of Hebrew National salami lie side by side in a glass display case at Ben's Kosher Delicatessen in midtown Manhattan. When compared with the crispy corn dogs and enormous latkes, they don't look like much. But the takeout counter guy is relieved he has any salami to sell at all.
For the last several months, a shortage of Hebrew National products has hit kosher restaurants and food distributors across North America, forcing some to fill the gap with other meat products -- ones that don't "answer to a higher authority," as the Hebrew National famous advertisement put it.
The shortage comes at what should be a time of celebration, as Hebrew National, which was founded on Manhattan's Lower East Side, celebrates its 100th birthday.
Tu b'Shevat, the 15th day of the month of Shevat, marks the birthday of the trees.
Conventional wisdom on the subject maintains that if honey cakes are removed from the oven at exactly the right time --whatever that is -- the dreaded dryness will be avoided.
Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the world. The Jewish/Hebrew calendar follows the cycle of the moon. The English/Gregorian calendar follows the cycle of the sun. Both calendars are divided into 12 months.
Heralded by the blowing of shofars, Kirk Douglas and his wife, Anne, stood under the chuppah Sunday afternoon and reaffirmed the marriage vows they first recited 50 years ago.
Whether you've been doing it for years or are brand new, leading a seder is a challenging job.
With Chanukah bracketed by major Christian and Muslim celebrations, last month might have been a propitious time to find common ground between the Abrahamic faiths.
Instead, a pair of incidents occurring within days of each other reveals the breadth of the cultural divide.
Prompted by recent car bombings of two synagogues in Turkey and a mosque in India, local leaders of Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths came together for a vigil on Dec. 7 to publicly condemn such acts of violence as "nothing less than vicious murders."
Meet Lorne Hughes, a young non-Jewish gentleman from the Virgin Islands clad in a form-fitting black outfit, who "regularly spends his weekends dancing with 13-year-olds at bar mitzvahs," according to an article that appeared in The New York Times on May 30, 2003.
Medical oncologist Dr. Daniel Lieber reached a breaking point two years ago. Israel's poor economic state had him so concerned that he began moonlighting as a volunteer for State of Israel Bonds Development Corporation for Israel (DCI), primarily trying to induce doctors to invest their pension money.
The High Holidays are a time Jews reserve for themselves. They don't seek the approval or participation of gentiles. What if African Americans stopped trying to get white people to celebrate with us and recognized that we have been essential in making this nation?
"I really didn't want to do it" said Chiara Greene, 16, of her bat mitzvah. "When I was 12, it really did not seem that important to me. I was not religion oriented, and I didn't want to do something that I didn't completely understand."
Those were not words that Chiara's father, Richard Greene, wanted to hear. "I kept telling her you are Jewish, you are my daughter, and I want you to have this experience," he said.
While so much of daily life in Israel has changed -- or stopped -- due to the security situation, life does go on: children celebrate birthdays, teenagers become b'nei mitzvah and couples marry.
You knew this was bound to happen.
Just this past Purim, The Journal reported about how hamantashen were becoming a hot food delicacy outside of Jewish circles. Now, two enterprising Los Angeles-area women are bent on doing the same for yet another holiday dessert staple -- the macaroon.
"The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah," edited by Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell, art by Ruth Weisberg. (CCAR Press, $19.95)
When the call went out to find an artist to work on "The Open Door," a new Reform haggadah, Ruth Weisberg knew she just had to apply. Weisberg, 59, a noted artist and dean of fine arts at USC, had done a lot of research and given lectures about the Passover storybooks, and they were something that she felt passionately about.
Because my ancestors were from Eastern Europe, specifically Latvia, Lithuania and Vilna, I am Ashkenazi. Just as I thought all Jews spoke Yiddish, a language I delight in because it's so colorful, I grew up thinking Jewish cooking was my mother's brisket and carrot tzimmes, my Granny Fanny's chopped liver and my Aunt Dorothy's blintzes with sour cream. That's not to mention the dishes my brothers and I used to giggle about because their names were so amusing -- knaidlach, kreplach and knishes.
While I don't belong in Christmas festivities, I don't enjoy the season's organized Jewish events. And so, I'm more confused than Anne Heche on a trip to Fresno.
A group of 27 influential Charedi rabbis will soon issue a takhana, or rarely issued formal guideline, setting strict limits on the number of people who are to be invited to an Orthodox wedding, the number of musicians hired to play, and even the type and amount of food that is to be served.
The historical foundations of Chanukah are well documented, in the Apocrypha's First and Second Books of the Maccabees and "The Jewish War" and "Jewish Antiquities," written by the Jewish historian, Josephus, in the first century of the common era. As these sources relate, in the year 167 B.C.E. the king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, decreed that only pagan gods could be worshiped in the temples, and the practice of Jewish rituals, including circumcision and Sabbath observance, was outlawed under penalty of death. Although many Jews, looking to assimilate into Hellenic society, acceded to Antiochus' decrees, an elderly priest named Mattathias and his five sons (the middle son would become known as Judah Maccabee or "Judah the Hammer") bitterly opposed them and, after raising a rebel army, headed to the hills.
Enjoyable, unique experience, totally different type of job, mostly outdoors, great fun, good pay. Santas needed. Holiday spirit a must.
Music for All Ages
Why wait till tashlich to celebrate your Judaism at the beach? On Dec. 16, Pacific Jewish Center (PJC) will commemorate its recently wrapped renovations with a rousing Chanukah party.
Stumped by what to buy as a Chanukah present? This year, you can give "The Rabbi Says..." doll to someone on your list.
Jewish Law may define our 13-year-old sons and daughters as adults, old enough to observe the mitzvot, to fast on Yom Kippur and to be called to the Torah, but any parent of a bar mitzvah knows that the mere coming of age does not transform a boy into a man. And, as I learned on Sept. 11, standing just miles from Ground Zero, no matter how old you are, there can be no preparation for such an awakening.
Although most American Jews break the Yom Kippur fast with bagels and lox, there is no reason why the menu has to be limited to what has become for many people, everyday fare, the equivalent of Jewish fast food.
And now comes Yom Kippur. We watch in horror and pain as people search desperately for their loved ones. We mourn as body after body is removed from the rubble. Our hope for recovering survivors diminishes by the hour. Our eyes are full of tears, our hearts are full of pain, and our minds reel in disbelief. Did this really happen? We feel helpless. We can't undo what has been done. We feel rage. We long to wreak vengeance upon this loathsome enemy who has no borders, and no heart.
Results of the two new studies are mixed enough that translating them into policy recommendations will not be easy.
As Jewish couples contemplate "setting their date," it might help them to know the times of the year or specific days that the local rabbis will not be able to perform the ceremony -- and even the time of year that Jewish tradition has considered most favorable.
Flowers are often a big part of anyone's wedding day, from the bouquets the bride and her attendants carry to the chuppah decorations and the table centerpieces at the reception hall. Many times the flowers are what the guests remember about the wedding (unless a minor disaster strikes). Deciding which flowers to use for what arrangements, though, can be a dizzying experience, thanks to the availability of different types and colors of flowers at all times of the year.
Woven into many Jews' seders when they sit down to celebrate Passover this year will be a spate of new traditions.
An undeniable physical reminder of a man's connection to Judaism, circumcision has been an important focus of the first days of a boy's life since before we received the Torah. However, for almost as long, there have been people who question the act of circumcision and those who have rallied for eliminating the practice.
My worst Passover was my first in Los Angeles, more than half a lifetime ago. I had nowhere to go the first night, and the second night, a college friend took me to an institutional seder that was so sterile and faceless that I went home early and, paraphrasing Scarlett O'Hara, vowed, "As God is my witness, I'll never go without a seder again."
Top 10 Ways to Liven up Your Seder
I absolutely love preparing chocolate desserts for Passover, and now that chocolate is considered a health food, it will give you all the more reason to include it in your Passover recipes. Chocolate desserts are easy to make, and you can create a variety of non-dairy chocolate desserts for Passover that will bring pleasure to everyone.
Why are we the People of the Book? Why aren't we the People of the Question?
After all, before Moses receives the Torah on Mt. Sinai, like Abraham earlier, he answers God's call to service with a question. In Exodus 3:11, he says, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and free the Israelites from Egypt?"
For years, the makers and marketers of kosher wines have claimed that their products can stand up favorably to their non-kosher counterparts.