On a Monday morning in November, two men sat on the edge of a field in Carpinteria, 85 miles north of Los Angeles. The older one, middle-aged, wiry and bareheaded, had the face of someone who has served in the military, worked in agriculture or, in his case, both. Alongside him was a younger man who wore a black kippah and looked, from his complexion, like he spends his days indoors.
Everything Is Illuminated," Jonathan Safran Foer's tragi-comic tale of a young American Jew's journey through Ukraine in search of his grandfather's roots, is the first winner of JBooks.com's People's Choice Award for the decade's best work of Jewish fiction at the Koret International Jewish Book Awards ceremony in San Francisco.
Eighteen months ago, when Lenard Cohen's 4-year-old daughter was enrolled in the family's congregational preschool, the Philadelphia-area father of three decided to go back to school himself.
During the week, Dr. David Kolinsky practices family medicine in Pacific Grove, a sleepy Northern California coastal town. But on Saturday mornings he dons his tallit and leads Shabbat services for Congregation B'nai Torah, a Conservative congregation in neighboring Monterey.
Kolinksy serves as spiritual leader and president of B'nai Torah, which has been lay led since it broke off from a nearby Reform temple 13 years ago.
Visiting rabbis have passed through, but with just 24 dues-paying members, there's no budget to hire even a student rabbi. The congregation also lacks a building -- it rents a small room in a local church, where it stores its two Torah scrolls and where, every Saturday morning, the stalwarts wait to see whether a minyan will show up.
There's been a Jewish community in Muskogee, Okla., since 1867, when furrier Joseph Sonderheim opened his import-export business.
In 1916 the first synagogue was dedicated, Congregation Beth Ahaba, a lay-led Reform congregation that served a tight-knit Jewish community of merchants and professionals.
"As Oklahoma grew and prospered through the 1920s, so did our congregation," said Nancy Stolper, 77, who moved to Muskogee 50 years ago.
Beth Ahaba reached its height of 75 families in 1929 but dwindled to 40 families during the Depression, as stores shut down and people moved away to find work.
Since then, Beth Ahaba's fortunes have declined steadily. Its young people, including the Stolpers' four children, grew up and moved away.
Its last student rabbi left 15 years ago.
"We're now just a group of frail senior citizens," said Stolper, noting that only eight to 10 members are still able to get to synagogue.
Three months ago they gave up their monthly Friday night services, and this High Holiday season, she fears, will be their last.
In his three decades at the helm of the Thanksgiving Coffee Co. in Fort Bragg, California, Paul Katzeff has pioneered the process of buying coffee beans directly from Third World growers and funneling money back to them after sales to promote economic self-sufficiency and social justice.
But Katzeff had never helped Jewish coffee farmers, who don't usually figure in the ranks of those growers.
That changed with the recent release of Mirembe Kawomera, or "Delicious Peace," a Fair Trade -- and kosher -- coffee produced by a new cooperative of Jewish, Muslim and Christian coffee farmers from the Mbale region of Uganda.
"We think this coalition is unique in all of Africa," said coffee farmer J. J. Keki, leader of the 700-member Abayudaya Ugandan Jewish community that is at the core of the project.
Is Shavuot becoming hip? The holiday, which begins June 12, may be one of Judaism's three major festivals, but it had never caught on in America like its more popular cousins, Passover and Sukkot.
The tradition of tikkun l'eil Shavuot, the all-night study session that marks the commemoration of God's giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, is celebrated by most Orthodox Jews and many Conservative congregations. But for many unaffiliated and non-Orthodox Jews, the holiday has gone fairly unnoticed.
Last Aug. 26, on a soundstage off Sunset Boulevard, Chabad of the West Coast's 21st annual telethon was about to begin.
The stage lights dimmed to blue, Camera One wheeled in, and a spotlight trained on a young boy wearing payes (sidecurls) and knickers -- Anatevka, circa 1905. The boy raised a fiddle to his chin and began a klezmer tune. A second young man, also in stylized Chasidic garb, emerged from the wings and began a slow-motion dance. The music got louder, the pace quickened, the dancer's pirouettes followed closer upon each other and then the stage exploded in a shower of lights and electric guitars as a dozen Lubavitch yeshiva students leapt forward, twisting, turning, doing handstands and cartwheels in a frenzied circle. Cymbals clashed and a booming voice rang out: "To Life! L'Chaim!"