Of all the stories of the human condition, in many ways, this is quite ordinary. It’s a story of an elderly grandmother and her granddaughter; of familial love and loss.
Some recent negative press in our community indicates, lamentably, that some Jews in America still view themselves as Persecuted Jew instead of Patriot Jew. Of course, we all can learn from Mordechai how to maintain a pristine patriotism for the country that has been so good to us.
The simplest innovations sometimes lead to the greatest rewards, as Rachel Andres learned this week when she was named the 2008 recipient of the $100,000 Charles Bronfman Prize. The annual prize is awarded to a person or team under 50 years of age, whose Jewish values spark humanitarian efforts that contribute to the betterment of the world. In Andres' case, her work gives succor to some of the most helpless and brutalized people in the world, the 10,000 refugee families, mostly fatherless, who have escaped the massacres in Darfur.
This week's Torah portion, Ki Tisa, tells the ultimate cautionary tale about becoming enamored with things. Losing hope and patience as they wait for Moses to descend Mount Sinai, the Israelites build a Golden Calf and worship it.
A fascinating debate has broken out among certain members of the community regarding the appropriateness of publicizing people's personal e-mails. A week ago, this paper went public with some incendiary e-mails from a rabbi who was trying to discourage women -- who were considered non-Jewish according to the Orthodox tradition -- from crashing his singles parties and dating Jewish men.
What makes a good politician? What makes a good Jewish politician? Zev Yaroslavsky, Henry Waxman and Laura Chick each, in his or her own way, illustrates how the values of Jewish life can be carried over into the secular obligations of public affairs. They have set an example for a new generation that will make sure our community is deeply involved in Los Angeles civic life.
In the course of a lifetime, we encounter any number of friends.
Some are friends by happenstance -- friends who happen to attend school with us, happen to work where we do or reside near us. When we graduate from school, change careers or relocate, most such friends slowly disappear from our lives -- and we from theirs.
Communal leaders outside of the synagogue love to talk the language of corporate strategy. They engage in endless debates on the latest demographic study. They plan elaborate conferences and demand new ideas. But sometimes we don't need new ideas; we need old ideas. We need less corporate planning and more text and tradition, less strategic thinking and more mitzvot, less demographic data and more Shabbat. Because we know in our hearts that in the absence of Shabbat, Judaism withers.
In the 30 years that the author and his wife have been together, he has yet to be the target of a wielded tire iron, but says marriage to a political activist does require a certain flexibility of thought and dexterity of movement.
Movie review, "No Country for Old Men"
A lot of people have trouble with Chanukah. I did, for years. I'd go to parties and nibble on my latke or sufganiyot while grumbling under my breath about how there was nothing here to celebrate. I'd light my Chanukiyah, but I'd only do the bare minimum needed to fulfill the mitzvah and I'd do my best not to enjoy it. My problem then, and the problem of the people who this year have already informed me that they're all but going to boycott the holiday, is that the history of this particular celebration is, well ... complicated.
Ben Goldhirsh the 27 year old brains and bread behind GOOD magazine, wants to combine his successful business with a commitment to philanthropy and public service. Goldhirsh sees the GOOD brand, which also includes Reason Pictures, a film company he started in 2004, as much more than a media organization. It's "a meta-company," he said, "a lifestyle brand" that appeals to the "reason-based sensibilities" of people like him. People who know privilege and yet want to change the world in a big way.
The Writers Strike is a Jewish issue. How do I know that? Because everyone is saying it's not. The writers who are demanding a larger share of DVD rights and residuals for their work and the producers who refuse to give it to them both say, repeatedly, that despite the fact that so many of them happen to be Jewish, the strike is not -- as Jewish writers and producers told our senior reporter Brad Greenberg last week -- a Jewish issue. To paraphrase a Clinton-era favorite, you can be sure that when everyone is saying it's not about being Jewish, it's about being Jewish.
The author of "God's To-Do List," Dr. Ron Wolfson, is one of the shining lights of the Conservative movement, and thinks that a huge dose of simple, practical advice can transform Judaism's words of wisdom into action for everyday life.
Jewish foundations are growing by leaps and bounds, giving away billions of dollars and supporting practically every cause and organization that you can imagine. This is good news, unless of course you are in the camp that believes Jews and the foundations they create are misguided if they give to non-Jewish, rather than Jewish, organizations.
Jewish philanthropy in Israel is at a crossroads. Powerful trends are marginalizing its impact on Israeli society. More than a billion dollars of philanthropic giving from Jews worldwide, spurred by endless goodwill, passion and care, are not impacting Israel or contributing to global Jewish peoplehood to the extent they should. The current system is in dire need of an overhaul.
It's not uncommon for well-established, wealthy members of a community to donate money to various causes, but these days, there's a new breed of philanthropist in town -- the college student.
The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles president and CEO Marvin I. Schotland sat down with The Jewish Journal recently to talk about the changing nature of Jewish philanthropy.
Throughout our history, my family's descendants have been mistreated, traumatized and deceived (just like me), yet somehow, we always survived. We always insisted, either physically or metaphorically, on "staying in the land and digging wells," despite "the famine." So perhaps our people refer to themselves by the names of my father and son, but their inner character and strength as tough survivors comes from me, Isaac. It is my story -- the story of a survivor -- that is really their story.
After Ryan Silver returned home from a trip to Africa with his family, he began preparing for his bar mitzvah. Without hesitation, he knew that his mitzvah project would involve helping the children in the orphanage he visited in a Nairobi slum. Between the guests' donations and his own, Silver raised more than $2,700. In addition to completing a Jewish rite of passage, Silver was pleased that his celebration helped educate others about the plight of the children in Africa and to ultimately offer financial support.
f you want to be popular in the Jewish world today, just say tikkun olam. Everywhere you go it seems that Jews of all stripes are jumping on this universal bandwagon. Recently, in one day, I got to experience three different views of tikkun olam. The last view was so politically incorrect, it was almost embarrassing.
Luckily, Judaism can hold its own in this wild ride -- because it already has a very big "buffet" that can appeal to a wide range of different tastes. We get in trouble when we focus on only one part of this buffet as if it's the whole thing. That smells like dogma. If we can display all the spiritual, cultural, mystical, intellectual, historical, ritual, artistic and communal courses of the great Jewish feast -- and invite Jews to partake in its many delights -- maybe the new generation will stop dismissing or trying to "upgrade" Judaism, and, instead, will explore what's being offered until they find something that turns them on.
Yet, as a result of the efforts of Bema'aglei Tzedek, a Jerusalem-based nonprofit organization, consumers are now on the lookout for a second type of certificate indicating that the restaurant conforms to a completely separate set of kosher guidelines -- good employment practices and accessibility for the disabled. Called the Social Seal or tav chevrati in Hebrew, the certificate is now being prominently displayed in more than 300 Israeli eateries from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and in various other locales. It was introduced by Bema'aglei Tzedek to combat what the organization's director, Asaf Banner, calls "an all too often ignored, yet deeply troubling, aspect of Israeli society."
Man is a meaning-seeking animal. Hardly a second goes by in which our mind does not stop its routine activities to ponder the meaning of the input it receives from our senses or from its own activities.
On the New Year we learn to pay closer heed to the words we speak, their impact on others and the subtle messages our words convey. As we listen more acutely to the call for help from others, we also take upon ourselves the duty to respond in a timely manner and rally around those in need.
The Bronfman Foundation, which sponsored the conference last week in Deer Valley, Utah, is set to launch something called the Bronfman Vision Forum that will offer new ways to invigorate and revitalize Jewish life, and this conference was designed to help generate new ideas and programs, and, yes, more conferences. What an endearing and Jewish idea -- that talking will save the Jewish people.
Indeed, immigrant communities often struggle with loyalties to the social mores of their old country and their new one. In the world of philanthropy and volunteerism, many Jewish leaders have learned that immigrant Jewish communities also have attitudes different from their American-born Jewish brothers and sisters. Those attitudes stem from the political systems and types of communities from which they came and what was expected of them in their native lands.
Amitai Ziv, recipient of the $100,000 Charles Bronfman Prize in May, would like to see his work in medical simulation -- a discipline that trains doctors and other health professionals to avert errors in times of crisis -- expand to the entire Middle East, and well beyond the field of medicine.
Jewish law considers mental illness as serious and real as physical illness, says Rabbi Elliot Dorff, professor of philosophy and co-chair of the bio-ethics department at the American Jewish University (formerly University of Judaism), with an accompanying obligation of treatment.
One year ago, as Jews across the country sat down at Passover seder with their friends and family, immigrant communities and their allies were standing up.
If someone had turned on the radio in Mulukuku, Nicaragua, on May 28, 2005, they would have heard "Hatikvah," the Israeli national anthem. There is no Jewish community in this village of 7,000. In fact, there is not normally even a single Jew. But for one week at the end of May, there were 14 of us.
Our group was in the most impoverished region of Nicaragua as part of a joint project between The Jewish Federation and American Jewish World Service. The goal: to help alleviate poverty, hunger and disease among all the people of the world. It was an imperative that I took very seriously, and one that compelled me to step out of my Los Angeles life of privilege and material comfort into a world where those two terms are largely devoid of meaning.
For generations, Barbie's hourglass "perfect" figure has confounded experts in anatomy, while giving girls a role model of debatable merit.
Now there's a doll whose appearance is more modest, who looks like kids and whose values are distinctly Jewish.
Created by Aliza Stein of Teaneck, N.J., Gali Girls wear clothes that are not made to accentuate their bodies. Accessories include a matching Magen David bracelet for the owner and the doll, a Hebrew and English birth certificate and a separate wooden Shabbat kit that can be painted.
Gali Girls are designed to encourage girls to bring positive Jewish values, such as kindness, respect, and charity, into their doll play, Stein said.
Before 18 year-old Sara Smith graduated last June, she made multiple trips to the stage to receive multiple honors at Shalhevet High School's awards brunch for graduating seniors. In addition to being named class valedictorian, she received the excellence in math award, two Bureau of Jewish Education awards and a plaque from Bank of America.
This June, talented and bright middle school and high school graduates, like Sara, will star in their own school awards ceremonies. They will walk up to the stage, amid hearty cheering by faculty and family, to receive awards for their achievements in such categories as academics, the arts, sports and menschlikhkayt.
At the same time, the majority of their classmates will sit and watch, walking away without any certificates, plaques, trophies or applause and likely feeling that their contributions have been inconsequential. Many might inevitably become less enthusiastic about attending graduation ceremonies and festivities.
That conflict is not lost on the award winners themselves.
Normally, a parent might agonize over her teen's decision to defer her freshman year of college. But when my 18-year-old daughter Lauren left recently on a flight to Israel -- deferring her first year at college for yet a second time -- I was thrilled.
"I've been working at the Century Plaza for three years. I've had only a 44-cent raise, and I have two children. It's hard to support a family with this salary," hotel worker Sonya Lopez told a crowd in Roxbury Park at the Progressive Jewish Alliance's (PJA) Aug. 8 event, "Justice in the Park," to educate groups on the hotel workers' position.
Since their extended contract expired June 1, unionized workers at nine Los Angeles hotels have been embroiled in a struggle with hotel management over new terms. Aside from a battle over wages and other benefits, the main sticking point between the two groups is the length of the contract.
Most of the workers are low-wage earners, starting at about $11 an hour, and many are recent immigrants.
One by one, a class of sixth-graders read aloud a passage and title that each has selected to go with one of Zion Ozeri's striking black-and-white portraits.
Seated with the young critics at Morasha Jewish Day School, the New York photographer seems pleased when students accurately discern the context of his untitled images, which the students have filtered through their study of Jewish values.
Neither does he hesitate to crib from one who summoned a particularly apt metaphor for a photo of candle lighting. "What was that title?" he asked, scrambling for pen and paper during a morning-long session last month.
A great blue heron swept across the rushing water and came to a landing in a reed-lined pool. My son turned to me. "Actually," he said, "this river is kind of nice."
He was talking about the Los Angeles River.
Is our national health care system beyond cure? Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Dr. Alexandra M. Levine, medical director of the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital, believe that the Jewish community can take a role in advancing remedies for our nation's health care ills.
When USC freshman Cynthia Gross asked professional director Anthony Barnao to mentor her new L'Chaim Theatre Ensemble, he was blunt.
On the first day of the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, a small group of Jewish men and women used the occasion to raise their voices in protest against what they saw as the growing economic divide in this country and the increasingly centrist policies of the Democratic Party.
Okay, let's just get this out in the open. The marking of the second millennium since the birth of Jesus is, well, not a Jewish event. In fact, it doesn't take a theologian to figure out that it's pretty much a Christian way of chalking up the years.
When Rabbi Gordon Bernat-Kunin founded an informal group dedicated to bringing together young Jewish adults to celebrate Shabbat, he named it Makor, meaning "source." Makor, which meets one Friday night a month in a participant's homes, is described by Bernat-Kunin as a "pluralistic grass-roots participatory community," whose goal is "to translate the spirit of Brandeis Collegiate Institute, Ramah, and summer camp into the city."