A new biography of California Supreme Court Justice Stanley Mosk opens with an apt quote from the late and much-loved Jewish Journal columnist Marlene Adler Marks: “Mosk,” Marks wrote in these pages in 1997, “is California history with a heartbeat.”
My girlfriend "E" was the first to declare what others had been observing for a while. "God sure is having a good laugh," she said. "You write a column called 'A Woman's Voice.' And yet you have no voice". The irony had crossed my mind.
Letters to the Editor
I'm sorry I haven't eaten more hot dogs.
Saturday is Selichot, the time when the whole Jewish world sings with Connie Francis, "I'm sorry," and vows to do better next time. Many of us are focused on the wrongs we've done to others, or even to God.
Steven Spielberg's new film, "Minority Report," is not exactly a deep take on the problems of "knowing," but since you'll probably see it anyway, here's where it brought me.
The film, based on a science fiction story by Philip K. Dick, argues that the future can indeed be known. Moreover, our security depends upon finding a Pinchas, a zealot who knows what crimes are being committed, and personally stops them. So anxious are we to hire this Pinchas, this future-knower, that we would sacrifice our freedoms for him.
It is 2054 in a dark, police-state Washington, D.C, all murder has been foretold by three mermaid-type creatures called precogs, so named because they have pre-cognition. The crimes are prerecorded in the future, then replayed in real time, at which point they are interrupted and prevented by a precrime squad headed by John Anderton (Tom Cruise), the very Pinchas we are seeking. Pretty neat.
I owe my life's work to Ann Landers. And, of course, her sister, Dear Abby. Dr. Rose Franzblau. And Dr. Joyce Brothers.
My parents visited a year ago while I recuperated from lung cancer surgery and they developed a division of labor.My father would do odd jobs around the house. My mother would feed me.
This was a good plan in theory, but in reality, it had loopholes. My father's tasks were well-defined: fix a fence, change a light bulb. But my mother struggled. What is it exactly her middle-aged daughter with upper-middle-class tastes liked to eat? The fact is that both of us had long since stopped cooking most of our meals, taking our nourishment from restaurants and take-out. Nevertheless, there persisted in her the belief that when a child is sick, only homemade foods will do. Familiar, nourishing, Jewish foods.
As Israeli-Palestinian violence makes daily life in the Jewish state a living (as opposed to a virtual) nightmare, American Jews are raising the ante on expressions of loyalty. A rabbi recently told me he wants every Jew to travel to Israel this year. A lay leader puts his name on the list for every mission, but breathes a sigh of relief when each is quickly cancelled.
Marlene Adler Marks' first column for this paper appeared in March 1987. It was titled "The Unwanted Visitor." It was about a rabbi who showed up to comfort Marlene as she waited in the hospital for her husband, Burton, to come out of surgery. "It hadn't been comforting to me," Marlene wrote, shortly before Burton died. "I couldn't handle it. There is a time when even a rabbi can do no good at all."
There in my darkened doorway were two men in black mid-length coats with long, curly beards and black hats; a younger and an older man, with eyes burning so clear and bright that they seemed to be reading from an inner script. There was about their smiling countenances such a sense of purpose, that the word "messenger" sprang to mind. They knew and I knew. They had come for me.
I was the oldest child at the Passover table during two decades of social turmoil, and so invariably I was the one to whom questions were directed.
Say what you will about Richard Riordan's abortive primary strategy, and the way he naively stepped into Gov. Gray Davis' trap, but Riordan certainly understood one of his key customers: the Jewish electorate. Too bad we'll never see the Davis/Riordan face-off that would have told us so much about ourselves.
No one said redistricting is fun. But this once-a-decade political ritual does provide a mirror to how much leverage a community has, or lacks.
The hardest part about writing about brain radiation is writing the words "brain radiation." I assure you that I'm OK. It's my fingers that are typing these words on my computer. It's my thoughts that are deciding which of the Yip Harburg lyrics from the Scarecrow's song, "If I Only Had a Brain," I should use later in this piece.
One of the most exciting experiments in Jewish transformation is taking place right here in Los Angeles.
"Welcome home, Marlene. It's about time you joined my family," my father said. He was greeting the news that well into the age of wisdom, I've finally begun eating sardines.
I wear a piece of red string around my right wrist, a talisman for healing.
Brave New World, here we come.
Only three weeks ago it was possible to speak in optimistic terms about a united front against terrorism. History seemed to be blowing at our back, pushing the forces of civilization onward and upward to victory against the scourge of modern times. Writing in this space in early October, I quoted with admiration the prediction made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; that the nations of the world would now join together against terrorism much as the nations of the post-Napoleonic period had defeated piracy. For a brief heady moment, it looked like we American Jews could sit back in the warm protection of our nation acting out of grief and righteous revenge.
It would be hard to exaggerate the significance of The Jewish Federation's Addiction Conference held Monday at the Skirball Cultural Center. But to compare, think back to the Shechinah Conference held 20 years ago at Hebrew Union College, which helped consolidate and shape Jewish feminism. In its willingness to creatively address perhaps the biggest social issue of our time, the Skirball program is that big a deal.
NOW THAT THE HIGH HOLY days are over, we can begin to appreciate how the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington may alter American Jewish life.
In past Yom Kippurs I've been known to bring a stack of books with me to synagogue, works both historic and intellectual, to focus on when neither prayer nor imagination can fill the time. Not this year.
A day before I left for a vacation cruise to Alaska, I looked in the mirror and spied, atop my clean, bald head -- Hair! There wasn't much of it, standing less than one-sixteenth of an inch tall. But when I ran my hand over my crown, I felt the delicious tickle of stubble.
"It's back!" I cried to my friend Susan, who was lending me a gown for the cruise's formal night. We jumped up and down the way we did in high school when the latest "he" called. I've been a cue ball since Day 12 of my first round of chemo. All my hair is gone, including eyebrows and lashes. The only really bad part, aside from looking like a Conehead, is the way drafts of cold air make my forehead feel glacial. In Alaska, I spent time looking for bald eagles, seeking to join their minyan.
There's nothing like completing chemotherapy to spice up a birthday party. Last weekend, 40 of my dearest friends performed a commemorative Havdalah ceremony to mark a really great CT scan and year 53. My "re-birthday" celebration was just the ticket, restorative not only for me but also for the extended community that has seen me through my struggle with lung cancer.
Were you queasy last week, when U.S. senators quoted the Bible in their effort to stop potentially life-saving stem cell research?
No matter how well things go in chemotherapy, the truth is, cancer always makes new demands on you. You can't afford to be a k'nocker, pretending you know what you're doing or what you're ready for. It's not as if you are in charge.
Who's the big winner in Tuesday's Los Angeles mayoral election? My bet is real estate developer Steve Soboroff. James Kenneth Hahn may be an old-line Democrat, but he benefited mightily from the silence maintained by the wealthy Republican businessman, who had come in third in the April primary.
Those of us with a sense of Los Angeles history approach the June 5 election with trepidation. No one wants a repeat of the first Sam Yorty/Tom Bradley race in 1969, with its bitter overlay of race-baiting. That's one reason why throughout most of the campaign the candidates have wisely lowered their rhetoric, stressing their similarities rather than differences. As Los Angelenos consider picking the first Latino mayor in the modern era, Tuesday's election, pitting former Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa against City Attorney James Hahn, already has, if anything, too much historic significance.
In my house last Sunday evening Tony Soprano easily defeated Anne Frank as "must-see TV." Yes, even in the home of committed Jews, the rancid affairs of a New Jersey Mafia family beat out the young girl of the Holocaust. The question is, why?
A month after Passover, the winds have not yet died down from the "Wolpe Hurricane."
Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Westwood caused a stir when he asserted, in earshot of a Los Angeles Times reporter, that the Exodus story can still inspire us even if, as some archaeologists assert, the story of the liberation from Egypt is not true. Rabbi Wolpe's remarks ended up on the Times' front page during Passover and became grist for sermons and Torah study all over town.
My fireplace mantle is stuffed &'9;with get-well cards. They come from people I know and many I've never met. One of them might have come from you. In the two months since I started writing about my lung cancer, the cards have been flowing in, plus an equal number or more of e-mails. They touch me deeply.
One of the most engrossing reality-based television shows is the thrice-weekly KLCS public broadcasting program, "Conversation with Roy Romer." Unlike "Survivor" and "Temptation Island," where contestants wearing cruise and safari garb compete against each other and the weather, "Conversation" features little more than a white-haired man in a black suit talking to off-camera live callers wearing who knows what. Nevertheless, the sharks are out. Romer is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and what is at stake on the show is the education of some 700,000 Los Angeles children.
I am determined to learn nothing from my cancer. Last month, I had lung surgery known as a thoracotomy. A cancerous tumor in my lower left lobe is gone. I'll have chemotherapy, and pretty soon I'll be bald. That's all I care to know about this completely hideous, unprovoked and unpredictable disease until the CT scan says that the cancer on my chest wall is under control.
Nostalgia for Bill Clinton? Don't say I didn't warn you. Even as George W. Bush takes office, the Jewish community is weeping sentimental tears for the almost lethally charismatic president who, in the words of The Forward, "had come to embody the hopes of Jewish liberals in America and Israel during the 1990s." Clinton, who is no stranger to schmaltz, had policy wonks and foreign affairs careerists alike publicly weeping when he chose the Israel Policy Institute as the site of his last address last week, hinting that yet one more attempt at an Arab-Israeli solution was still in the works.
The October Violence is the short-hand designation for the deadly sniping, shooting and police action between Palestinians and Israelis, including the unprecedented call-to-arms of Israeli Arabs. If American Jews accept "October Violence" as the title (Palestinians call it "the riots," while the American press reprises the frightening "intifada"), two months later we haven't yet found a way to talk about it, even among ourselves.
For a few strained hours last week, I was afraid we'd be witnessing the Jewish version of Elian Gonzalez, Part II. Could Jewish blood pressure withstand the tension of the Palm Beach vote taken hostage?
Is there a "Jewish stake" in the district attorney race between two-term incumbent Gil Garcetti and head Deputy District Attorney Steve Cooley? Maybe it comes to this: How far out of step is this community going to be?
Finally good news has come for Al Gore.
The Arab American Political Action Committee this month endorsed George W. Bush. Last week, 20 other Michigan-based Arab organizations followed suit, including the Arab-American and Chaldean Leadership Council.
Leo Cohen wanted to see my PalmPilot.
"How do you put in the data?" he asked.
We were just completing our pre-fast family dinner, and I'd taken out my snazzy, whiz-bang electronic calendar to demonstrate it to Leo's son-in-law, Sam, an astronomer who gets his data from the sky, not from bytes in his Palm.
But if Sam was blasé, Leo was emphatic.
My parents were Elderhostel students this week at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, and I shared Friday night services with them in the Conservative tradition of my youth.
I can't remember a word spoken by Ira Goldstein, the Plainview (NY) High School valedictorian, Class of 1965, but I'm sure his graduation address was brilliant. Ira, who apparently was in the Philosophy Club with me for three now-forgotten years, was the most brilliant boy in a class of brilliant boys. Girls were "smart" or "sweet" in those days; boys were "brilliant."
"The difficult he does quickly; the impossible takes a little
This Passover, more than any other Passover, I wish I had four children.
Here we are, weeks away from the first night of Passover, and I am already suffering PMS, Pre-Matzah Syndrome. Cranky, sullen, bloated, sweaty and dull. What gives?
The Passover seder is a spectacle made for children. The lamb bone, parsley and egg, the wine spilled on the paper plate, all vividly dramatize the story of the Exodus to freedom in such straightforward ways that even the Simple Child Who Doesn't Know How to Ask can glean an important lesson.
As I made the rounds of endless cocktail parties and debates two weeks before March 7 primary day, I could see that the Jewish community has little reason to cheer term limits, just as it will not likely salute restrictions on campaign contributions, if that should ever come to pass. The Jewish community has spent much of the past 30 years learning the effective use of government for the wider public good. The race between Assembly members Wally Knox and Sheila Kuehl to replace State Senator Tom Hayden is another case of chopping our institutional wisdom at its root. Newly-installed Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, already regarded as one of the most effective and professional legislators of his generation, will be term-limited out of office at the next election term.
I have seen the Jewish future and, to my surprise, it still belongs to the Baby Boomers. By now I'd guess that Boomers would happily cede attention and civic responsibility to Gen Xers and Gen J but nothing doing. One in three Jews today are between ages 35-53, and the needs and demands of this group will dominate Jewish life well into the coming decades.
Whatever the rest of America made of last week's news that Loehmann's discount department store is declaring bankruptcy, for American Jewish women, it is very, very sad.
The political question of the week is, "What will David Tokofsky do now?" For four years, Tokofsky, the veteran teacher and former coach of Marshall High School's champion academic decathlon team, has played the role of maverick on the Los Angeles Unified School District Board. He exposed the lack of textbooks in district schools; publicized the scandal-plagued Belmont Learning Complex; crusaded against "faddish" educational philosophies; and urged an end to social promotions (implementation of which was rescinded last week by Superintendent Ruben Zacharias). Against the "Cuckoo's Nest" aura of LAUSD, Tokofsky has sounded like a visionary.
When I consider author Sara Davidson's now-so-public love affair with a cowboy who didn't know about Anne Frank, I can hear my mother saying, "Honey, you could do so much better."
To which Davidson's response would surely be, "Show me how."
ff, the guy from the party rental place, left this phone message two weeks ago:
"Passover is March 31," he said, "and, say Marlene, you always call us the last minute. Do you think you might plan a bit ahead this time?"
Circumcision was Page One news in the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday after a report from the American Academy of Pediatrics did all but call the ritual cutting medically meaningless. You didn't have to be a man to feel the cut.
History never precisely repeats itself. I was cleaning up after dinner the other evening when I heard my daughter, Samantha, now nearly 17, on the phone; she was talking with a guy named Vinnie.
"Vinnie?" I said, as she hung up. "I think we should be focusing on Jewish guys now, don't you?"
"He's a friend, Mom," said Samantha.
And to my surprise, I let it go at that because I wasn't sure what else to do.
I am a lousy gift-giver. I'm bad enough on birthdays, when gift-giving makes me so nervous that my gifts never arrive on time. But I'm absolutely awful in December, when I feel so pressured by Chanukah expectations that I buy gift after gift for three of the people on my list, inadvertently leaving out everyone else. Maybe it's a new kind of learning disability, Adverse Gift Disorder. But I mean well, I do.
What a great week this has been for liberals. If it does nothing else, Election '98 makes it OK to use "L" word again. I love it -- it is so much more descriptive of hope and dream than the neutered word "moderate." Liberals have been abused on both the left (by multiculturalists) and right (by fundamentalists) for so long that it will take us a while to reconsider the beauty and dignity of its expression. Liberal is who we are, even if L.A. Times' columnist Bob Scheer doesn't fathom why, defining a liberal as one who votes against self-interest. Not true.
Tom Bradley was buried Monday, hailed as Los Angeles' longtime mayor, statesman, leader and friend. His is a grand biography; a son of Texas sharecroppers and the grandson of slaves, Bradley broke down ethnic and class barriers and forged a new multiracial political base that re-created this capital city of the Pacific Rim.
One day we may look back at the 1998 High Holidays as a bizarre version of "Rosencranz and Gildenstern are Dead"; American history seen through the perspective of minor Jewish characters helping to determine the national fate. Monica Lewinsky! Sen. Joseph Lieberman! As the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal is causing Americans to question matters of private and public morality, Jews are caught up in the tide. Here are two observations from our perilous time:
Each Yom Kippur, a vestigial loneliness creeps over me. I achingly feel that my parents and family are back East; that my cousins live in Japan; that some of my dearest are dead. On this day, dispersion and alienation seeps in, and I cling to my community like fog to the shore. And this is the way it should be.
I see that it's time for the media to replay the perennial horror story known as The Dying Jew. "The Vanishing Jew," by Alan Dershowitz, is a mea culpa over his son's intermarriage.
The big political story that's emerged from last week's California primary is not the Davis-Lungren gubernatorial race nor the high-profile propositions. The big story is yet unfolding and takes us to a small corner of our town, in the east end of the San Fernando Valley. At this writing, former Assemblyman Richard Katz is only 33 votes behind City Councilman Richard Alarcon in a race to replace veteran state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal. While awaiting the inevitable recount, observers of the new American ethnic politics are peering over the map of Senate District 20 block by block for what is being done right -- and wrong.
Where does a parent -- a Jewish mother -- begin a frank consideration of her daughter's sexuality? As the Zen master says, you have to start from where you are, and then let it flow.
You'll never find "The Cadillac," on any critic's list of top 10 "Seinfeld" episodes, but I don't care. "The Cadillac,"episode 124 in the Seinfeld oeuvre, IMHO (in my humble opinion, for those who don't use Internet shorthand), is the real thing, among the show's most authentically Jewish episodes, revealing the uncircumcised heart within a sitcom generally acknowledged to reflectonly callousness, narcissism and an urbane hipness in post-shtetl America. And, in a small way, "The Cadillac" changed my life.
Here's the plot of the show that ran February 8,1996 as a 60-minute "Seinfeld" special.