Pinpointing what makes people so passionate about Israel is no easy thing, perhaps because there are so many options.
My 4-year-old son is obsessed with superheroes, dressing up at every opportunity as the superhero du jour to do battle with the bad guys lurking around the corner. (My 2-year-old daughter is just as enthusiastic, but at her age all she can really muster is a “meanie” face.)
Only a precious remnant of Holocaust survivors is alive today, and many of them were just children when they went into hiding or ended up behind barbed wire.
Here are some recent stories out of Israel that you may have missed.
It's estimated that 97 percent of Polish Jews died in the war. To this day, Geminder can't quite fathom how he ended up in the 3 percent that survived.
Do you write from memory? Someone always asks, and I become tongue-tied and uncertain, scrambling for the words, the ways to make believable what I know will sound bizarre -- a too-complicated response where all that is required is a simple "Yes" or "No" or "Sometimes; the rest is research."
I lived in Iran for only 13 years. I remember very little -- a handful of places, a couple of dozen friends and relatives. Yet, I've spent my entire career writing about the country and its people, and I've written it all -- this is the part that's difficult to explain -- from memory.
Books about Chanukah.
"I do not think that the Holocaust can be forgotten," Elie Wiesel said. "It is the most recorded event in history. But I am afraid it will lose its uniqueness. I'm afraid it could be cheapened, diminished, trivialized."
Etzioni-Halevy has focused her attention on reworking popular biblical stories, making the characters, particularly women, more alive and personable for modern readers.
One of the best American short story writers, Apple has just published "The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories" (Johns Hopkins Press), his first collection of stories in 20 years. He writes with the same playful imagination and comic intelligence as in his earlier stories, layered with irony and an infallible sense of detail.
An observant Jew, Bleich provides a Jewish rationale for his commitment. While Judaism teaches that each individual is unique and special, it also emphasizes community, he says.
Each Christmas, Barri Evins and a group of volunteers give away thousands of books at Head Start magnet centers throughout the Los Angeles area. At each center, volunteers greet each child individually, ask them their age and then present them with a brand new book especially selected for them.
"The MeshugaNutcracker!" tells the tale of eight citizens of Chelm, the mythical shtetl of fools, who gather every year to perform at their Chanukah festival. Through the course of the two-act musical, each tells a story of Chanukah heroes from the time of the Maccabees through today.
This week's Torah portion contains a story that most of us skipped in Hebrew school -- the story of Dina.
Dobkin doesn't play bingo, and she doesn't own a television. She occasionally attends a lecture or musical event, but generally, when she isn't working, she is reading, usually The Forward in Yiddish or English or The Jewish Journal. She reads without glasses, except for very small print.
"Herb is this wonderful combination of New York savvy, old school wisdom and outrageous life experiences," Kaminoff says. "Imagine Garrison Keillor, only if he was a handsome Jewish guy from Brooklyn."
Kristallnacht marked the end of Jewish life in Germany; a pivotal turning point in what later became known as the Holocaust. A generation is passing, but it is a generation that has left behind voluminous records, testimonies and memoirs, video recordings and diaries, letters and notes.
"I Killed" features headliners like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Jonathan Winters and Shelley Berman for the first time telling tales away from the "comedy caravans" and "yuk-yuks" and even yuckier joints they endured while perfecting their craft.
Upon entering the museum, visitors will receive a grain of rice, representing themselves. Then, they will walk into a room filled with 300 million grains of rice - one for every person in the United States. The rice will be divided into piles, each one illustrating a statistic, such as the number of people who have walked on the moon or the millions of immigrants who passed through Ellis Island. One grain of rice will stand for one person.
And there it will be, among all the piles: a large mound with 6 million pieces, representing each individual Jewish life lost in the Holocaust.
Here are the stories of these American servicemen who observed the High Holidays not in conventional synagogues, but on far-flung battlefields. The worship services they participated in were often improvised and incomplete. But the jarring juxtaposition of war and prayer, faith and fear, continues to resonate with these men.
One should read Israeli writers, of course -- Agnon, Amichai, A.B. Yehoshua, Aharon Appelfeld, Orly Castel-Bloom, Etgar Keret. But the more appropriate template may come from fellow Americans, writers who, by exploring the Diaspora Jew's relationship to Israel, have gone down this road before.
When Jews hire people to do household jobs -- anybody who cleans, cooks, does the laundry, cares for children or elderly parents -- we are the ones who represent the privileged class, with the funds to hire help. Jews today are generally wealthier and better educated than the majority of Americans.
I've spoken to many groups all over Los Angeles during extremely volatile times. I've never seen such rudeness, narrow mindedness and just plain boorishness.
The Rosenbergs were executed for spying for the Soviet Union in June 1953. Their personal story was told 51 years later by their granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol, in the powerful 2004 documentary, "Heir to an Execution."
7 Days in the Arts
7 Days in the Arts
This season brings engaging reading in a mix of genres: literary fiction, comedy, love stories, detective novels, memoirs, historical fiction and books that break genre boundaries; books by veteran authors and others not-yet well-known.
Why are there so many young, hip Jews writing fiction that irreverently pokes fun at their heritage?
While each show follows its own trajectory, Chaiken points out that many Jewish-themed plays explore the issue of legacy. These performers describe conflicted feelings about their parents and the aspirations held out for them. As clichéd as such scenarios may seem, they speak to the pain and humor of family, a commonality that usually resonates with audiences.
A little embellishment here and there isn't so bad -- creativity and a sense of humor are always great things. But there are just certain things that you should never lie about.
"I have been told not to touch the Torah and to go back to my own religion" she relayed to me matter-of-factly.
"Wasn't there anyone you could confide in?" I asked.
"I could confide in some more than others, but when it came down to it, no one really cared whether I converted or not."
Bible Storyland must have a guardian angel. Dissolution by the clergy, dormancy for 45 years and a fatal fire were not powerful enough to erase the plans for this Bible-based theme park from history.
The Haggadah tells us "you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Here is the interesting thing -- because we were strangers, we are supposed to learn not how the Israelites should have acted, but -- how the Egyptians should have acted. We are supposed to learn how not to oppress others. Don't treat others the way we were treated.
Wounds are plentiful in Eli Wiesel's "The Time of the Uprooted," an absorbing novel that moves back and forth in time, from 1940s Hungary to New York at the end of the 20th century, shifting points of view, with emotional intensity packed into memories and stories.
We're compiling the best stories of people who met through The Journal to run as part of our 20th anniversary edition.
If there's an overriding theme among the newest books related to the Holocaust, it's one of concealment and discovery, whether in the writer's own wartime experience or invented on the page. Sometimes it's a case of lost books being rediscovered.
Every haggadah has a story, its own story, beyond that of the exodus from Egypt. Depending on illustrations, design, typesetting, additions, where the edition is printed and who commissioned its creation, each version is a marker of Jewish history.
I asked myself if Jews really are clannish and, if so, should blacks use that as a model for advancement? But more to the point, I asked myself if there were things Jews do that blacks should adopt to become more prosperous.
My answer: an emphatic yes.
Liz Mermin's curiosity began after she read a 2002 New York Times article about the proposed school, which was backed by the magazine Vogue and volunteer Americans stylists:"I thought, 'Of all the things Afghanistan needs, how could a beauty school be anywhere but near the bottom of the list.'"
"Gate of the Sun," was originally published in Beirut in 1998 to great acclaim. Subsequently, translations appeared in French and Hebrew, and an epic four-and-a-half-hour film version, "The Gate of the Sun," directed by Egyptian film director Yousry Nasrallah, was released in 2004. The just-released English edition was translated from the Arabic by Humphrey Davies for Archipelago Books.
Wherein lies the power of the Judah personality? Is this the same Judah who initiates the sale of his brother and whose conduct in the Tamar episode raises troubling questions? Equally remarkable is the haunting silence of Judah's siblings. Why is it Judah alone who stands tall in the face of the hostile viceroy who wants to seize Benjamin? Are they not all certain of the consequent early demise of their father Jacob?
"We talk a lot about the symptoms for this phenomenon but not enough about the causes of violence," said Gideon Fishman, head of Haifa University's Minerva Center for the Study of Youth. "If we do not explore the causes, nothing will help -- neither more policemen nor more punitive measures."
The three-part "Walking the Bible With Bruce Feiler" follows the recent documentary trend of sending a charismatic host to a series of dangerous or hard-to-get-to places. Accompanied on occasion by archaeologists, scholars, Egyptologists, and theologians, Feiler tracks his way through places in the Middle East where the biblical stories of Genesis and Exodus are assumed to have occurred.
KANCHIPURAM DISTRICT, INDIA -- The bright, clear morning of Dec. 26, 2004, would forever change S. Desingu's life.
The first monster wave rose from the Sea of Bengal without warning at 8 a.m. -- silently, massively.
For the Indian fishermen at sea, the startling energy pulse bumped harmlessly under their boats, passing in an instant. The wave started to rise ominously in the shallows.
Onshore, the 36-year-old Desingu glanced up to see a 30-foot liquid wall surging in as tall as the tops of the soaring coconut palms. The fishing craft along the shore rolled end over end, tossed as easily as playthings in a bathtub.
A few weeks ago, I had just returned from a trip to New York to meet someone my rabbi tried to set me up with -- a member of his
former congregation there. On my first Friday night back in shul, I was confronted by close married friends of mine with the question.
Some years ago, playwright-performer Eve Ensler became mortified by her not-so-flat, post-40s belly. She starved herself, hired a trainer and watched late-night Ab-Roller infomercials. She compulsively worked the treadmill and even fantasized about contracting a parasite.
"Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer," edited by Derek Rubin (Schocken Books, 2005), an Israeli-born professor who teaches in the Netherlands, collects 29 essays by Jewish American writers, some of which were previously published, others reshaped or written for this collection.
Devoted to fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is America's most influential Jewish group. So what are we to make of the weird air of unreality in the ADL's public statements about Christians?
Authors Roger Bennett, Jules Shell and Nick Kroll discovered in one long B.S. session that nothing quite engaged their friends, Jew and non-Jew alike, as a trip back down memory lane to the day of their or their friends' bar or bat mitzvah.
Couples who have created a partnership and life together consistently talk of the effort involved. Yes, some relationships seem easier than others, but all say it takes time, energy and a true willingness to face whatever comes along on their journey together.
Sure, I've dated a fair amount, but the over-70 age range is one even I haven't yet ventured into. Don't have a clue as to what those gals have on their mind. But judging from the women I do know, I'm guessing cats and jewelry wouldn't be too far off.
The United Airlines agent informed us our flight from Denver to Aspen was over sold -- not everyone with a valid ticket was going to get on board.
Dozens of passengers were trying to be the ones past the gate.
Among them, lots of Jews.
Every year during the High Holidays, my rabbi at Temple Beth Am makes an appeal for Israel Bonds to our congregation. However, this year, I suggested -- and he agreed -- that teenagers be the ones to inspire the congregation to support Israel.
A college buddy of mine -- Jewish, though not a descendant of survivors -- once observed that his family dynamics follow the rules of a sport: Guilt Judo. The sport requires a range of moves: arm-twists, throws, the art of the pin. Grace and style matter, and it is, of course, imperative to master that most fundamental skill: learning to fall without injury.
As a child I was so bored in synagogue that I hid novels in the creases of my prayer book.