Archive for February 13, 2010

San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘A Shabbos Mother’

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

By Sara Appel-Lennon

LA JOLLA, CaliforniaA Shabbos Mother,” written and directed by Inbar Namdar portrays how celebrating Shabbos (Sabbath) brings a family together.

The film centers on a widow, Miriam, and her three daughters, Yael, Cheli, and Ella. Yael, the oldest sister and radio announcer, shows up for the Shabbos meal just 20 minutes before the lighting of the candles. She goes out on a date at 11:00 p.m. on Friday night after the Shabbos meal. She removes a rubber band from her hair as she confides to her sister, Cheli, her date doesn’t know she lives in a religious neighborhood.

Meanwhile Ella is pregnant and married to Kobi. Ella complains about Kobi, he withdraws. When Ella starts having contractions, Kobi starts to show some concern for his wife. Miriam treats her with favoritism because she is married and pregnant. Miriam disregards whether the marriage is loving.

Cheli has chosen to live according to Orthodox Judaism. She married Dudi, who studies to become a rabbi during the day and cleans synagogues at night. The couple have a loving respectful marriage. They both have feelings of disappointment because Cheli has not been able to become pregnant during the past year despite fertility treatments. Cheli confides to Ella that she envies that Ella is pregnant. Ella is envious because Cheli would love to be a mom but Ella fears that she won’t know how to handle a baby.

The story unfolds as Cheli and Dudi discuss whether or not to ask Miriam to borrow money to see a private female physician. Dudi mentions a passage in the Talmud which states whoever gives you money, buys you. 

Yael overhears the couple’s conversation and offers Cheli some money she had been saving to buy a car. Cheli refuses the offer.

The mother criticizes Cheli’s chosen lifestyle. During one Shabbas weekend she finds fault with her daughter in many instances. The mother does not understand why Celli and Dudi walked to her house instead of calling to get a ride. Cheli brought home-made challas, which everyone likes. Miriam tells her “You shouldn’t have bothered. We have enough food.”  In response Cheli turns to her husband, Dudi, and says “I told you she’d say that.”

Cheli asked her mother to leave the light on so Dudi could study. The mother neglected to fulfill her daughter’s request. Tension mounts as Miriam inspects the glass Cheli has already washed. Cheli then examines the lettuce leaf Miriam has washed.

Cheli takes a stand about how her mom has been picking on her all weekend.

“Why can’t you understand me? Why can’t you look at me? See who I am?” said Cheli… “You don’t even want my challahs. You criticize me all day long. Nothing I do is good enough.”

After Ella gives birth, Miriam notices the baby has her late husband’s nose.

It is as if his soul lives on in the new grandchild.

Miriam then softens toward Cheli and Dudi because she realized the couple helped Ella and Kobi through the delivery.

 The film concludes with Yael saying “They say Shabbos embraces a new soul.”  Maybe this time it will.

“A Shabbos Mother” will play on Monday, February 15th at AMC la Jolla 12 at 4:00 p.m.

Appel-Lennon is a San Diego-based freelance writer. She may be contacted at


Filner joins in resolution to honor Miep Gies for helping Anne Frank and family

February 13, 2010 1 comment

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Press Release)–Congressman Bob Filner announced his co-sponsorship of H.R. 1074, a resolution that honors the life and courageous spirit of Miep Gies, who helped sustain Anne Frank’s family while they were in hiding and preserved her diary for future generations.

“Were it not for Miep Gies, the world would never have met Anne Frank,” says Congressman Filner. “The humanitarian actions of Gies more than fifty years ago in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam have had a special and enduring impact.”

Hermine “Miep” Gies was born to a German Catholic family in Vienna, Austria, on February 15, 1909, and moved to the Netherlands when she was 11.  In 1933 she took a job as an office assistant to Otto Frank, owner of an Amsterdam pectin manufacturing company and father of Anne Frank.  After the Nazis invaded the Netherlands, Mr. Frank, his wife Edith, and his daughters Margot and Anne went into hiding.  For two years Miep, her husband Jan Gies, and three other employees of Otto Frank, risked their lives to supply the Franks with food and other provisions. 

After the Gestapo captured the Franks, Miep found the pages of Anne’s diary and hid them for safekeeping.  When Otto Frank, who survived the Auschwitz concentration camp and returned to Amsterdam, learned that his daughters died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen, Miep gave Anne’s diary to Mr. Frank.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank is one of the world’s most widely read books and serves as an inspiration to countless people.  For her courage during the occupation of the Netherlands and her dedication in keeping the memories of those times alive, Miep Gies received many honors including knighthood from Germany and the Netherlands.

Preceding provided by Congressman Bob Filner

Where are the pressure points?

February 13, 2010 3 comments

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–What is amazing about the preoccupation with Israel and Palestine is the certainty with which respectable individuals preach about a problem whose complexity has been pondered for decades, and where fluidity is more prominent than stability.

Even more amazing is the focus of urging change on the one element that is stable, while failing to take account of the instability elsewhere that may run over in several directions with no end in sight.

A prominent recent example of misplaced certainty is an op-ed piece by Roger Cohen in the New York Times. Cohen has a long record of blaming Israel for the problems of the Middle East. He has called for an end to Israeli settlement in the West Bank, and expressed shame for the operation in Gaza that he described as a disastrous case of Israel slaying Palestinian children.

Now he is lamenting that President Obama must do more to honor an election pledge for “new thinking, outreach to the Muslim world, and relentless focus on Israel-Palestine. . . . The conflict gnaws at U.S. security, eats away at whatever remote possibility of a two-state solution is left, clouds Israel’s future, scatters Palestinians and devours every attempt to bridge the West and Islam.”

Cohen realizes that problems among Palestinians contribute their share of the frustrations, but he asserts that President Obama must work harder “to ask such tough questions in public and demand of Israel that it work in practice to share the land rather than divide and rule it.”

If the two-state solution does not work, Cohen is certain that “there will be one state between the river and the sea.”

The one-state solution is a common threat, typically made by the Israeli left and overseas critics who claim that they are friends of Israel, and want to reign it in before it is lost. As Cohen writes of the one state he sees as possible, “very soon there will be more Palestinian Arabs in it than Jews. What then will become of the Zionist dream?

The one-state threat illustrates the weakness in many criticisms of Israel. It is more a fantasy than anything that can be extrapolated from realities.

Who would make Israel absorb into itself land and people that do not succeed in achieving statehood. The process would not reflect any natural law of politics that I recognize.

If something must be done with the West Bank, why not urge its absorption into Jordan rather than into Israel? And if something must be done with Gaza, why not Egypt?

The answers to these questions are similar to the answer of Palestine’s absorption into Israel. Israel does not want it any more than Jordan or Egypt want the portions that outsiders would assign to them.

Israel has ample power to say no and to police what it defines as its borders. Its rejection of American demands to make concessions prior to negotiations is only the most recent instance of rebuffing what the elected leadership decided was not in Israel’s best interest.

Israel is the stable element in what had been the British Mandate until 1948, with a history of resisting diplomatic initiatives meant to down-size it, and numerous efforts at violence over the course of 60 years. Israeli settlements have been on the Golan Heights and the West Bank for 40 years, suggesting that they have enough stability to be worked around rather than wished away by anyone thinking seriously of a diplomatic breakthrough.

The instability among Palestinians indicates that pressure on Israel cannot be predicted to produce anything that will appeal to moving cultural and political phenomena that are going who knows in what directions.

Recent revelations of corruption may reverberate, despite the claims of Palestinian political elites that they are nothing but Israeli fabrications.

The latest Economist describes heavy handed efforts of Fatah to impose its control on the mosques of the West Bank, as well as declining support for Hamas in Gaza. The newspaper shows no confidence for knowing who will emerge on top. 

The West Bank has shown several years of impressive economic growth, attributed to Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, a professional economist (PhD University of Texas-Austin) who returned to Palestine after a career in the U.S. Federal Reserve and World Bank.

Among the unanswered questions:  Will Fayyad survive whatever happens at the summit of Palestinian politics, in the context of corruption, unresolved conflicts between the political and religious leaders, militants affiliated with Fatah and Hamas, and the long delayed national elections?

Will the chronic outmigration of Palestinians continue? Over the years this has nearly emptied the West Bank and Gaza of Christians, and has led numerous Muslims with means to seek their future elsewhere.

While some blame Israel for this migration, others link it to the frustrations created by Palestinian rejectionism, violence, and on-again, off-again promises of national success. Israeli optimists see the migration as relieving pressure from high birth rates for a one-state solution, and reducing the prospects that Jews will lose their large majority in Israel.

Politics is not permanent. However, the current Israeli government is well entrenched. Left of center parties did poorly in the 2009 election, and show no signs of recovering in recent polls. Labor is in danger of splitting against its party leader who joined the Likud-led government as Minister of Defense. Knesset members of the centrist Kadima opposition party may also be splitting into right and left factions. In that context, Prime Minister Netanyahu gains further assurance, even if the right wing of Kadima does not formally join his government.

In all of this, it appears that power holders like Barack Obama and commentators like Roger Cohen should rethink where they apply what pressure they possess, or look elsewhere for a region where their activism would be appropriate.


Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

J.D. Salinger, z”l, in retrospect

February 13, 2010 Leave a comment

By Rabbi Philip Graubart

LA JOLLA, California –If you grew up in circumstances similar to mine (American, suburban, public high school), and with a similar sensibility, then a few weeks ago you felt a sharp pang of loss, with the death of J.D. Salinger.  Many of us (actually, millions of us) had our first experience finding ourselves in a work of literature while reading Salinger’s A Catcher in the Rye

In the book, as I’m sure you recall, Holden Caulfield embodies adolescent alienation, wandering around New York, while dividing the world into two types: phonies (95% of the population), and saints, the pure, elect few – the people who “get it” –  symbolized, for Holden, by his younger sister Phoebe, and his late brother.  From a religious perspective, Holden is rejecting the coarse muck of the physical world, and embracing the pure, the good, the spiritual. Millions of teenagers devoured Holden’s adventures, while nodding along, understanding his feelings exactly.  I certainly did.

That’s why I was astonished when I re-read the novel last week and discovered that Holden’s famous alienation doesn’t flow from his adolescence, it comes from his grief over just losing his older brother.  Throughout the book, Holden is in mourning; he’s pining for his dead brother.  And it’s the grieving which produces his unhealthy division of all humans into phonies and saints, and the entire Universe into physical and spiritual.

But, I realized, drawing on my own rabbinic experience, that’s precisely what acute loss does to us.  For awhile, in the heat of mourning, it makes us divide our acquaintances into good guys and bad guys – the few good folks who “get it,” who sympathize with our grief and help us; and the great majority who inexplicably and crudely go on with their silly, striving, material lives, despite our immense loss.  The Catcher in the Rye portrays Holden going through a stage of grief – the alienation stage.  By the end of the book, though, he’s getting over it.  He’s recovering. Salinger, in other words, isn’t recommending teenage alienation.  On the contrary, he’s identifying it as pathology, something to treat, and then transcend.

But, why should I care?  It’s been over thirty years since my teenage alienation, and despite some forays into literature, I’m a rabbi, not a critic.  Well, for one thing, Salinger’s father was Jewish, and it’s interesting to wonder if Jewish ideas influenced him, or if, for that matter, we could claim him as a Jewish thinker and writer.  And, in fact, Jewishness does pop up in a few of his stories (email me, and I’ll tell you where). But, to be honest, it’s never a serious theme.  By then end of his writing life, Salinger seemed much more drawn to Buddhism and Christianity then Judaism.

And yet, there’s something Jewish about Holden Caulfield’s recovery from alienation, the way Salinger, in the novel, ultimately rejects dividing the world into phonies and saints.  Unlike Buddhism and some forms of Christianity, Judaism doesn’t reject or disparage the material world. The Talmudic tradition – for me, the finest and most representative Jewish tradition – embraces the muck and the struggle of the material world, while injecting it with the light of Torah – of God’s light.  So the world as we experience it is not purely physical or spiritual, it’s a harmonious combination of the two, an intertwining.  People are neither pure phonies, nor saints, they are both, in combination, saints and phonies, angelic and bestial.

This, I believe, was Salinger’s view, and I’m not just relying on Cather in the Rye. I find further evidence of a kind of Jewish sensibility in his novella “Zooey,” part of the book Franny and Zooey.  In the story. Franny, like Holden, a precocious adolescent, is withdrawing from the world and having a Holden-like breakdown.  She drops out of college, sits in her room all day, and mumbles Christian prayers to herself. Her brother Zooey attempts to heal her, and reminds her that their late older brother Seymour used to encourage them to perform at their best (they were child radio performers) because of an imaginary, hypothetical “fat lady.”  Franny responds yes, she remembers, she always tried hard for “the fat lady.” But Zooey adds this wisdom; he says that everyone is “the fat lady.”  In fact, the fat lady is “Christ Himself.” This comment not only cures Franny of her malaise, it redeems the equally troubled Zooey.

It’s a fascinating moment, for two reasons.  On the one hand, Franny clearly saw the “fat lady” as one of the elect few, a saint, not a phony, someone who “gets it,” who intuitively understood her performances.  So Zooey reminds her that everyone has elements of sainthood, just as everyone has element of phoniness.  At the same time, the term “fat lady,” makes us think of gross physicality.  Franny even comments that she imagined her as a cancer patient with thick, veiny legs.  So in claiming that everyone is the fat lady, Zooey – the spiritual hero of the story – reminds us that all humans are grossly physical, but nevertheless we should value them, and see in them the spark of God.

Despite Zooey’s Christ reference, Salinger’s parable of the fat lady reminds me of many Hasidic stories where unpleasant beggars turn out to be Elijah the prophet.  The lesson in these stories seems to be the same as Salinger’s in “Zooey.” No one is too gross, or too good.  We’re all beggars, we’re all the fat lady, just as we’re all phonies and saints.  Interestingly, in his personal life, Salinger imitated the pre-cure Zooey and Holden; he retreated from the world, abandoning the hustle and bustle of publishing, and fled to Cornish, New Hampshire.  But he left behind a body of work which urges us to engage the world, not flee.  May his memory be a blessing.

Rabbi Graubart is spiritual leader of Congregation Beth El in La Jolla.

Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren in San Diego

February 13, 2010 3 comments

  Ambassador Michael Oren (center) with Morris Casuto and Monica Bauer

By Morris Casuto

SAN DIEGO–On January 10th, Ambassador Michael Oren, Ambassador of Israel to the United States, spoke on“U.S. Israel Relations from an Historical and Personal Perspective” at UCSD for an audience of several hundred people including students, faculty, staff and members of the community. Thanks to the firm position taken by UCSD’s administration led by Chancellor Marye Ann Fox, this lecture was not a repeat of the unfortunate incident in UC Irvine on February 8th where the Israeli Ambassador’s speech was disrupted by a well-organized group of student protesters. 

In sharp contrast, UCSD’s administration demonstrated resolve and determination to conduct a program in a peaceful and civilized manner and in the best traditions of the university’s commitment to freedom of speech and exchange of ideas. The presentation started with a strong statement from Peter Cowhey, Dean of the UC San Diego School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, that interruptions would not be tolerated during Ambassador Oren’s presentation and that members of the audience would have the opportunity to ask questions at the end of the presentation.  The lecture proceeded smoothly, and the following Q&A session was mostly monopolized by students who questioned the Ambassador on topics that included the usual pro-Palestinian discourse on ethnic cleansing, war crimes, violations of human rights, etc. Ambassador Oren responded to each question with the knowledge of the accomplished historian that he is and with the wisdom of a true diplomat. 

The program was organized by the student group Tritons for Israel and Hillel of San Diego, with the support of UCSD’s Chancellor Marye Anne Fox, the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, and other organizations within the UCSD and San Diego communities.

The UCSD Police Department, in cooperation with the security team from the Consulate General of Israel, provided security for the event.  They were present but not intimidating.  Their presence indicated that UCSD would not brook a repeat of the events that occurred at UCI.  Prior to the presentation, ADL staff met with UCSD police who contacted us for assistance.

Students from the Manhigim Institute, ADL San Diego’s youth leadership program, had the opportunity to attend the lecture, meet the Ambassador, and have their picture taken with him.

Some protestors gathered outside Price Center to voice their opposition to the Israeli government.

Prior to the event ADL, with the support of the Consulate General of Israel, organized a briefing with the editors of the San Diego Union Tribune. The editors had ample opportunity to ask questions about a variety of topics, including security issues, the two state solution, the relationship between the Obama administration and the Israeli government, and the threat of a nuclear Iran.


Morris Casuto is director of the western region of Anti-Defamation League.

Reportage on Israel’s Ethiopian, Russian immigrants focused on their differences from Israeli norms

February 13, 2010 1 comment

HAIFA (Press Release)–Exposure of the cultural aspects of Ethiopian Jewish immigration to Israel in the Israeli media has focused on immigrants’ cultural ignorance and ‘astonishment’ at their proving basic technological skills.

This has been shown in a new study carried out at the University of Haifa. Immigrants from the former U.S.S.R., on the other hand, were tagged as ‘belonging’ to Israeli culture and therefore labeled as ‘ours’.

“An immigrant group that is culturally remote from the hosting society receives less immigration support; its cultural foreignness is more marked and unsuccessful absorption is blamed on the cultural gap. An immigrant group sharing similar cultural characteristics, on the other hand, receives immigration support and is also expected to become absorbed and integrated in the socioeconomic, cultural and political system. When such a group culturally segregates itself, it is interpreted by the media as a threat,” explains researcher Germaw Mengistu, who carried out the study with the supervision of Dr. Eli Avraham of the Department of Communication at the University of Haifa.

The study set out to examine the differences in media coverage of the two immigration groups and to identify the factors behind these differences. In order to do so, the researcher surveyed 7,200 popular quality newspaper issues published between 1970 and 2004.

The results show that the main difference in the coverage of the two immigrations is in relation to the immigrants’ cultural distance from Israeli culture. While the percentage of articles on cultural integration and segregation is similar for both groups, the main difference is found in the articles relating to cultural disparity: 7.2% of the articles on Ethiopian immigrants and culture related to the differences between their culture and Israeli culture, while 2.6% of such articles were on Soviet immigrants.

A qualitative analysis of the articles shows that the main narrative relating to immigrant Ethiopian Jews was on their cultural ignorance – primarily their inability to cope in a city environment and lack of technological comprehension and skills. When a published article did relate to how the Ethiopian immigrant demonstrates technological capabilities, it was accompanied by wonderment at such skills.

In addition, members of the hosting society who were cited in such articles – whether the reporter or absorption agent – generally noted how the new immigrant from Ethiopia demonstrated astounding skills in using a technology but also made a point of suggesting that the immigrant was still oblivious to the dangers of that device.

Another significant difference between the two immigrant groups was found in a survey of their religious-historic status. The question of Jewish identity did not arise with regard to the massive U.S.S.R. immigration of the 1970s and 1980s. In the 1990s, the Judaism of sections of this group came into question, but the media criticized the claims. This criticism was interpreted as emanating from a fear of harming the immigrant population that brings great benefits to Israel. The coverage of the religious-historic roots of Ethiopian immigrants related to a “common Jewish father”, but their Jewish affinity was probed and much attention was given to issues of assimilation and lack of religious knowledge amongst members of this group.

That said, once the U.S.S.R. immigrants began to form a cultural identity of their own, they began to be considered a threat and most of the reporting began to criticize this trend. According to the researcher, this reinforces the main conclusion of his study: that the main factor influencing the reporting approach is the cultural position of an immigrant group in comparison with the majority.

Alongside the differences is a common denominator: Most of the media reports relating to members of both groups were negative. The majority of the reports on the two groups – 61% – were negative, 21% were positive and 18% were neutral. In the 1990s, many of the articles on immigrants from the U.S.S.R. related to crime (17%) and in the 2000s, this percentage rose to 34%. Articles on socioeconomic integration of this group dropped from 7.8% in the 1990s to 3% in the 2000s. Reports on disturbances and socioeconomic decline were the most common articles on Ethiopian immigrants in the 1990s (8.2% and 7.7% respectively). Social antagonism (14.5%) and socioeconomic deterioration (14.5%) were the most common types of reports in the 2000s. Articles on crime shot up drastically from 3.2% in the 1990s to 12% in the 2000s.

Preceding provided by the University of Haifa

Young Israel San Diego “rocks” on Tu B’Shvat

February 13, 2010 3 comments

By Claire Gold

SAN DIEGO–When it comes to celebrating Tu B’Shvat, Young Israel of San Diego literally “rocks.”  In keeping with what has become an annual Tu B’Shvat tradition, YISD members from the very young to the “young at heart” trekked up to the summit of Cowles Mountain (Cowles is pronounced like the word, “coals”), the highest point in the city of San Diego.

Outfitted with flashlights, walking poles, and a few siddurim, YISD members and friends assembled on motzei Shabbat this year to enjoy being outdoors amongst the thick chaparral of San Diego and hike the 1.5 mile long mountain trail. While some bounded up the many switchbacks to reach the summit in record time, others walked more cautiously and stopped along the way to enjoy the city lights below and admire the glow of the clear, full moon above. YISD President, Robert Sigal, assumed the “sweep” position as any good leader would and as the last hiker in the group, he made sure that no one strayed off the path or was left behind. Basya Rosenberg, about to celebrate her 10th birthday in a few days, was excited to be out at night as she kept pace with the slower adult hikers while her mother, Vicki Rosenberg, leaped ahead with ease to reach the summit where she was met by the Goodwin family; Vice President Ron Schotland; Efraim Hollander, grandson of YISD’s Rabbi Chaim Hollander, and many others. Ron’s daughters, Erika and her sister, newlywed Liz Mudgett, along with her husband, Lawrence, and their dog, Chili, provided assistance along the way to those who needed an extra boost to climb up the steeper parts of the trail. 

After reaching the nearly 1600 foot ascent, the hikers took a short break to enjoy the spectacular 360 degree panorama of San Diego. The view inspired awe of the wonders of nature on this Rosh HaShanah for the trees. The group then headed back down the mountain as they negotiated the many terraces of sloping rocks using their poles and a variety of footwork methods.  Rachel Sigal, niece of Robert Sigal, led the last group with expert navigational skills as she called out warnings of hazardous terrain ahead.  Meanwhile, back at the Young Israel San Diego shul, which happens to be conveniently located just across the street from the mountain trail, the invigorated hikers were enthusiastically greeted by other members to celebrate the Tu B’Shvat holiday with a late evening Melaveh Malkah of fresh fruits and the delightful guitar playing of Eddie Rosenberg. 

As President Robert Sigal aptly said, “Come join us at Young Israel San Diego, where we put the ‘young’ in the Young Israel!”

Gold is a freelance writer based in San Diego