Posted by Dikla Kadosh
Thanks to the provocative Israeli film, “The Secrets,” featured in the 23rd Israel Film Festival, Orthodox Jewish seminaries are a hot topic this summer.
Our Calendar intern, Jina Davidovich, is choosing to spend a year studying torah at an all-girls theological college in Israel, like Naomi, the main character in the film.
However, the similarities end there. Jina, in contrast to Naomi, is not postponing an unwanted shiduch, but rather her college education. Bright and bubbly, the recent YULA graduate is also a far cry from the brooding, angst-ridden young woman in the film. At the moment, her most pressing dilemma doesn’t involve the proper place of a woman in religious life or her relationship to other female students, but rather the resorting of her closet. Here is Jina’s honest and endearing confession:
As I stood amongst a heap of discarded clothing, the frustration got the better of me, and I screamed. My parents raced down the stairs and cried, “What happened?” Reminiscent of my younger temper-tantrum days, I flung myself onto the pile of bright colored t-shirts and dresses and wailed, “I have nothing to wear in seminary! I’m not going!”
While this scene sounds like something out of a religious version of The Real World, I assure you, it’s a situation that many seminary-bound girls will find themselves in in a few short weeks as they pack their bags for Israel.
It has become an encouraged tradition for girls and boys from Orthodox American high schools to push off their collegiate plans for a year and attend the best seminaries and yeshivas in Israel. After countless arguments, I was sending a deposit to Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim (MMY) where I would spend the year with my head buried in various religious texts. Now, with less than a hundred days to go, I’m starting to panic.
While I am accustomed to the rules and rigorous standards that accompany life at an Orthodox, all-girls institution (I recently graduated from Yeshiva of Los Angeles), this was a whole new ballgame – I was playing with the big boys, well, girls. When I received my acceptance packet from MMY, I quickly flipped to the section detailing all the standards they require of their talmidot (students). While I knew the dress code would force me to cross every religious t and dot every modest i, seeing it in writing made me break a sweat. Shirts that covered my collarbone and my elbows, skirts that cover the knee while sitting or standing, and no open-toed shoes…I rushed to my closet to find that I was in dire need of a new wardrobe.
Now, every time my friends and I enter a store, we must tear our eyes away from the just-too-short summer dresses and those oh-so-cute jeans and head towards the ankle-length skirts and crew-neck shirts. As I stand in my closet and finger all the clothing with which I much part in a mere 69 days, I remind myself that in Israel, I won’t be working on my outside, but rather, my inside.
In the meantime, I’m trying to keep my tantrums to a minimum and my skirt lengths to a maximum.
8.18.08 at 2:26 pm | Hollywood producer/talent manager Joan Hyler. . .
8.15.08 at 7:21 pm | Just when you thought there couldn't possibly be. . .
8.14.08 at 6:37 pm | In town to promote her new book, House Speaker. . .
7.18.08 at 3:03 pm | The new Contemporary Jewish Museum in San. . .
6.25.08 at 10:36 am | Jina, our Calendar intern, is heading to an. . .
6.24.08 at 11:18 am | A clandestine love affair at a girls seminary. . .
June 24, 2008 | 11:18 am
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
The secret is out. There is a steamy sexual scene between two gorgeous Israeli women in the film, “The Secrets.”
But the Israeli film, directed by Avi Nesher and spotlighted in this year’s Israel Film Festival, is not only about a lesbian love affair.
The film is much deeper than that.
To be sure, the title “The Secrets” is referring to the intimate bond two young religious girls form while studying at a seminary in Safed. The girls, both under societal and familial pressure to marry and fulfill their role as dutiful mothers and wives, must keep their romantic feelings hidden from the world and much of the film’s drama revolves around the clandestine coupling.
But there are other, more intense secrets in the film.
Like the cause of the main character, Naomi’s mother’s death. The family alludes to an illness and Naomi accuses her father of ignoring her mother’s depression, but the entire subject is seemingly swept under the ultra religious household’s rug.
Then there is the mysterious French woman in Safed who seeks the help of the two young seminary students to obtain redemption for a murder she committed. The terminally ill social outcast reveals a few of her dark secrets during the course of the film, while others remain hidden.
In attempting to purge the woman’s sins, Naomi delves into the forbidden secrets of Kabbalah, whose roots are strongly entrenched in the holy city of Safed. Almost like playing with the dark side of magic, Naomi unearths passages and rituals in the seminary’s ancient books and concocts a series of “tikkunim” - literally “fixes” - to cleanse the sinner’s soul.
“The Secrets” is a riveting labyrinth of hidden thoughts, mysterious deeds and concealed emotions that prompts you to consider numerous interesting questions, including whether sexual relations between women are forbidden in Judaism. The answer is not what you would expect.
You’ll have to see the movie to find out. Or ask your rabbi, although I think spending $11 is much easier.
For more great Israeli films, show times and theaters, visit www.israelfilmfest.com.
June 17, 2008 | 11:29 am
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
Jewish Journal super-intern, Jina Davidovich, writes about her extracurricular activities for The Calendar Girls:
As a senior at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles Girls’ School, my obligations extend beyond surviving anxiety attacks that come with opening college decision letters, keeping up my grades and attempting to have a social life. Every week, YULA students are required to do one hour of community service (chesed) which is then recorded on yellow cards with blue stamps. Those blue stamps are highly coveted for the simple reason that not having enough of them means not graduating.
I pulled out my chesed card a couple of weeks ago and turned it over to find that five of the boxes were sans stamps. I started to panic. Luckily, our school psychologist had a suggestion—the Aleinu Family Services Hike-a-Thon, worthy of one blue stamp. While I am not the most enthusiastic nature lover, I knew Aleinu is a great organization so mustering up the desire to help wasn’t difficult.
The Hike-a-Thon took place June 1st at Kenneth Hahn Park, where hundreds gathered to raise money for Aleinu’s Safety Kid project. In learning more about the extremely successful program, my interest was suddenly piqued. Safety Kid trains educators around the country to go into pre-school, elementary and middle schools to teach adolescents the importance of safety and ways to implement it in their day-to-day lives. In addition to demonstrations, the Child Safety Institute, which runs Safety Kid, has presentations for parents and educators to ensure that their steps toward safety come from a joined front of kids, adults, and teachers.
At the event, families gathered around water stations to rehydrate after the hike. Children were running around, parents were grinning, the weather was gorgeous and suddenly, the blue stamp didn’t matter. My job was to distribute prizes to the excited kids. Water guns were a predictable favorite, which resulted in my t-shirt being damp by the end of the day. My required hour was over, but I didn’t want to leave yet. I was having a great time.
Coincidentally, the YULA community service coordinator approached me with her four kids. “Looks like someone is in desperate need of hours,” she joked. “Nope,” I responded, “someone is just dedicated to the community and wants to lend a helping hand.” We both laughed at my slightly sarcastic comment, but I realized it was really true. Having heard so many stories of child abuse and abduction, it felt good to be helping to create a way to prevent children from being harmed.
I handed out my last water gun and headed home.
One stamp down, 4 to go.
June 16, 2008 | 3:15 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
Where on Ventura Boulevard can you get a glatt kosher prime rib eye steak infused with a garlic herb rub, broiled in an open fire while singing along to popular Israeli love songs performed by the legendary Pini Cohen?
Only at Bocca steakhouse, the much anticipated and talked about phoenix that rose out of the ashes of what was once Tempo. Filling the shoes of such an iconic Israeli hangout of the San Fernando Valley is not going to be an easy task, but Bocca seems to be settling right in.
I visited the steakhouse, only several months old, last Thursday night and the place was hopping. Every seat in the house was being warmed by a well-dressed lady or gentleman. Handsome waiters dashed about, carrying martini glasses, gorgeous-looking appetizers and thick, juicy steaks. Pini Cohen, a legendary Israeli entertainer, milled about saying hello to loyal fans and chatting with old friends. Cohen drew enormous crowds every Thursday night for his Israeli sing-alongs at Tempo, and the owners of Bocca wisely kept that tradition going, all the while changing everything else around it.
Patrons at the old Tempo may not have necessarily come for the food, though I’ve heard the Mediterranean fare was appetizing enough, whereas Bocca is making a serious attempt to attract diners to their high end cuisine and not just their “go to be seen scene.”
Bocca’s menu makes you wish you could dine out every week. Appetizers include Asian chicken satay over spiced crispy rice and apricot-glazed Moroccan chicken wings served with couscous. There is a delicious selection of soups, salads and pastas, but I had no interest in those options that night. I skipped straight to the entrees: the Bocca steak with bearnaise sauce, center cut medallions, pepper crusted London broil, prime rib black angus…it was a big decision.
I settled on the garlic rubbed prime rib eye steak with rice pilaf and roasted potatoes. I was not disappointed. The food was delectable. Lucky for me, by the time the food arrived, the enchanting Pini Cohen was on stage, which forced me to look up from my plate every few seconds and breathe between bites. In Hebrew, you would say that Cohen “ose sameach,” which literally translates to “Cohen makes happy.” But the saying really means that Cohen gets the party started.
And that he did. As soon as he started singing, the steaks were forgotten, wine glasses abandoned and chairs pushed aside as people got up to dance and sing along.
The entire restaurant, decked out in elegant furnishings, designer light fixtures and romantic candles turned into a rocking party scene. It was quite a transformation.
If Bocca can continue to impress with its delicious (and kosher!) cuisine as well as delight with its vibrant live entertainment, the corner of Ventura and Hayvenhurst is going to be, once again, one of the hottest spots in the Valley.
June 2, 2008 | 4:26 pm
Posted by Dikla Kadosh
At Camp Rikud, David Dassa’s annual Israeli folk dance weekend at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu, there is always a talent show on the last night.
Many of the performers are painfully embarrassing to watch and leave you wondering how anyone could be so lacking in self-awareness. Like the high school girl who performed a slightly odd dance number in a loose strapless shirt that kept sliding down every time she turned, jumped or twirled. The performance was dangerously close to becoming a peep show and the audience was more preoccupied with gasping and giggling at the near-wardrobe malfunction than with the young girl’s awkward movements - which in the end, turned out fine for everyone: the audience was entertained and the girl was the talk of the night.
But the R-rated dance was not the performance that most accurately exemplifies the essence of an Israeli folk dance camp, although many Israelis, including my fiance, are convinced that the dance weekends resemble something out of “Dirty Dancing” - young girls being seduced by dance instructors, older married women having weekend flings, steamy late night dance parties in the staff quarters… I’ll get back to those scandalizing half-myths in a second.
A song sung by a veteran dancer, who actually has some musical talent, could very well be Rikud’s anthem. A few lines into the song, the 250-person audience began singing along:
“I could have danced all night!
I could have danced all night!
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings
And done a thousand things I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know what made it so exciting.
Why all at once my heart took flight.
I only know when he
began to dance with me
I could have danced, danced, danced all night!”
That’s how it feels to be at an Israeli folk dance camp: exhilarating.
The camp, which starts on Friday afternoon every year on Memorial Day weekend and ends on Monday afternoon, is one long dance marathon, broken up by meals and a few other activities: the talent show, havdallah, melaveh malka. Dancers learn new dances all day during teaching sessions taught by Israeli choreographers and every night, an open dance session lasts into the morning hours. On the last night, Sunday night, the session goes until 8 or 9 a.m. the next morning - hence the “I could have danced all night” anthem.
There are several other Israeli dance camps in the United States throughout the year and the people who attend them vary greatly: most are American, but many are Israeli. The age varies too - more so at Rikud where there is always a large group of high schoolers who David Dassa teaches as well as a large contingency of young dancers he cultivates. There are beginners and dancers who have been dancing for 30 years. People come from Israel, Canada, South America, Mexico and the East Coast to dance at Rikud.
There are those that come seeking romance. And there are people who are rumored to be having extramarital affairs. Sitting on the sidelines, you could probably spot a few smoldering looks exchanged between dance partners or glimpse a couple sneaking off towards the bungalows. There are definitely whispers about the revered Israeli choreographers (the rock stars of the Israeli folk dance world) taking advantage of their sway with female dancers. However, that kind of activity for which Israeli folk dancing is often stigmatized in Israeli culture, is a minor part of the dance experience. And, it’s natural. After all, dancing is a social activity where people connect in many ways.
I met my fiance at an Israeli folk dance session, though he danced only briefly. One of my best friends, Anita, who will be a bridesmaid at my wedding, is someone I became close to at David’s weekly dance sessions. My fiance’s brothers became business partners with someone they met through dancing. There are numerous siblings and husbands and wives whose bond is strengthened by this shared activity.
Once a year, these avid dancers from around the world gather at Rikud to share their passion, to connect with one another, and to dance, dance, dance all night!