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‘Love, Loss and What I Wore’ is hilarious, poignant and passionate

May 16, 2010 Leave a comment
By Cynthia Citron

Cynthia Citron

LOS ANGELES — Five women sit in a row onstage and talk about being women.  Their subjects range from buying a bra to their obsession with boots to the enduring chic of the color black.  They talk about marriage and divorce and the death of a child.  And most of all, they talk about their mothers.

 It’s a hilarious, poignant, and passionate exposition of the lives of many women, but mostly it’s the voice of its creators, Nora and Delia Ephron, and it’s called Love, Loss, and What I Wore.

The binding element is Carol Kane (Taxi, Hester Street, Wicked, The Princess Bride), who illustrates her ongoing story with drawings of the outfits she wore at critical moments in her life.  They range from her Brownie uniform all the way to the dress, hat, and heels that her four-year-old granddaughter wears to play “dress-up”.

 The other four actresses, who serve as a sort of Greek chorus to supplement Kane’s story with their own stories and digressions, are Caroline Aaron, probably best known for her performances as a regular in Woody Allen’s films, Natasha Lyonne (American Pie and Slums of Beverly Hills), Tracee Ellis Ross (Girlfriends, Labor Pains, and The Vagina Monologues),  and Rita Wilson (Chicago, Dinner with Friends,  That Thing You Do! and Sleepless in Seattle, with her husband, Tom Hanks).

Each performer tells snippets from the life stories collected by the Ephrons in conversations with their friends and from the book by Ilene Beckerman.  In addition, they participate in segments—called “Clothesline”—in which they offer quick, uproarious comments on the immediate subject being discussed.  For example: in a rant called “The Closet” they each vociferously come to the conclusion that they have “nothing to wear!!!”  In another, called “What My Mother Said,” they run down the traditional cliches that mothers have been pounding into daughters since the beginning of time:  “Don’t eat that!  You’ll get polio!”  And from grandmothers: “For everything that ails you on the inside, drink tea.  For the outside, vaseline!”

At times Ellis Ross and Lyonne morph into feuding sisters and spew dialogue that could have come from the Smothers Brothers, but one has the sneaking suspicion that they come straight from the Ephron sisters themselves.  (In addition to Nora and Delia, there are two additional sisters, Amy and Hallie.)

Nora, who is a screenwriter, producer, director, and journalist, is probably best known for her screenplays for When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, and last year’s Julie and Julia.  She has been married three times, including for four years to journalist Carl Bernstein, a marriage which produced her two sons, an acrimonious divorce, and the novel (and subsequent film) Heartburn.  Now, happily married for 23 years to author and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, she sums up her philosophy in six words: “Secret to life, marry an Italian.”

 Delia, three years younger, is also a screenwriter and producer, and has written six books, including Hanging Up, which she and Nora collaborated on to create the screenplay for the 2000 film.  The story of three sisters coping with the impending death of their father, the film starred Meg Ryan, Diane Keaton, and Lisa Kudrow, with Walter Matthau playing their crotchety dad.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore opened in New York last October under the direction of Karen Carpenter and is still drawing crowds, as well as a rotating cast of actresses who perform in four-week cycles.  Here in L.A. it is expertly directed by Jenny Sullivan, augmented by dramatic lighting flourishes by Lap Chi Chu.

Love, Loss and What I Wore is a hoot.  Women will watch it with knowing nods of the head and large guffaws, but all those who ever had a mother or a girlfriend or a wife will also enjoy it very much.

 This production, with the current cast, can be seen Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 and 7 through May 30th at the Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater at the Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave. in Westwood.  A new cast takes over on June 1st.  Call (310) 208-5454 for reservations.

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Citron is Los Angeles bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

A vision in a California olive grove of Mideast peace

May 16, 2010 1 comment
 

Clockwise from left: Oren Blonder of the Peres Peace Center; Thom Curry of Temecula OliveOil Company, Bonnie Stewart of the Hansen Institute for World Peace; Catherine Demuth-Pepe of the Temecula Olive Oil Company and Sam N. Husseini of the Palestinian consulting company Lion Heart confer in groves in Aguanga.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

AGUANGA, California—The olive groves in this rural Riverside County community about 20 miles east of Temecula may become one of the growing grounds for Middle Eastern peace if Israeli, Palestinian and American visionaries are successful in promulgating the idea that entrepreneurship and business cooperation between the Middle Eastern neighbors can lead to enduring peaceful relations.

Two entrepreneurial families who own the Temecula Olive Oil Company recently hosted a delegation from San Diego State University’s College of Business Administration; the private Fred J. Hansen Foundation which has provided some funding for the project; and the Peres Peace Center in Israel.  The two-man delegation from the Middle East included Sam N.  Husseini, a Palestinian entrepreneur, and Oren Blonder, an Israeli staff member at the Peres Peace Center who oversees cooperative agricultural projects between Israelis and Palestinians.

Sanford Ehrlich, who heads the Entrepreneurial Management Center within SDSU’s College of Business Administration, and Bonnie Stewart, executive director of the Fred J. Hansen Institute for World Peace, which has become part of that center, have been working for years with the Peres Peace Center and the Palestinian Center for Research and Development to foster a new Palestinian-Israeli industry that would blend olives from both areas into a single peace product.  They call their multinational organization “Entrepreneurs for Peace.”

The organization plans to award 20 scholarships for Middle Eastern MBA students, agribusiness graduate students and young entrepreneurs – 10 from Israel and 10 from the Palestinian areas – to study together August 13-22 at a special institute sponsored by San Diego State University.  While class work will occur on the SDSU campus, at least one of the field trips will be to the Temecula Olive Oil company’s 26-acre farm here and to that company’s retail store in Old Town Temecula or in Old Town San Diego. Application forms now are online at http://emc.sdsu.edu.

The Temecula Olive Oil Company is a partnership of two married couples: Thom and Nancy Curry, and Catherine Demuth-Pepe and Ernie Pepe.  Thom Curry, who oversees the agricultural aspects of the company, serves on the California Olive Oil Council and is one of the judges on that body’s panel giving awards for the oil’s taste.  But besides as a food ingredient, olive oil and its byproducts have many other uses that can quicken the heart of an entrepreneur.

“We produce olive oils the way they have done it for thousands of years,” Thom Curry told the visitors on Friday, May 7.  “The olives are ground into a paste with seeds and everything.  It goes into a mixer, where it is mixed up a little bit, and then it goes into a centrifuge.  It spins about 5,000 revolutions per minute (rpm) and that spins the solids out.  Then you separate the oil from the water when you spin it at 8,000 rpm.  You can do all that continuously and you get oil out the other end, a very efficient process.”

Curry said that the Temecula Olive Oil Company’s operation differs from those occurring over the last several thousand years in that it manufactured its own olive press out of stainless steel, rather than stone. Stainless steel doesn’t absorb oil, and can be easily cleaned.  Thus a problem affecting other presses is eliminated: the tendency for the absorbed oil to turn rancid and to spoil the taste of the newly pressed olive oil.

During the tour and over a lunch of pizza, which guests garnished with different flavors of Temecula Olive Oils  including garlic, citrus and an herbal flavored Rotture di Oro, Curry engaged his guests in a discussion about what else can be done with the oil, water, and solids from pits.

Husseini mentioned that he has seen machines that compress the pits and other solid materials from the olive oil pressing into logs “that burn for hours.”   Blonder said he has witnessed operations in which the byproducts are dried out in a furnace and used for cattle feed.  “It is a pretty neat process, but it is expensive.  The machinery that is involved is a big investment.”

Curry said that water and oil can be separated from the olive oil paste.  “We use the oil for bio-diesel; we run our tractors and I run my truck on it.  The water we get is rather acidic—and there has been some research done on this in Italy and some at UC Davis – where if you spray it in the vineyards, it will act as a weed killer.  It also solidifies the soil a little bit and it increases your yields in the vineyard.   But you have to rotate though; you can’t constantly spray in the same place all the time.”

Husseini said that the olive oil coming from the northern portion of the Palestinian area, near Jenin, are said to contain the highest ratio of anti-oxidants of any fruit or vegetable.

Dr. Gail K. Naughton, a cellular biologist who serves as dean of the SDSU’s College of Business Administration, commented that olive water imbued with anti-oxidants can be sold in the anti-aging market to combat wrinkles.

Naugton, who was the founder of Advanced Tissue Sciences and inventor of some of its products, including skin grown in a test tube for burn victims, noted that a small bottle of anti-wrinkling oil sells for between $25 and $30 at stores. 

Curry said that olive water represents only a tiny portion of byproducts – perhaps 2 percent.  “We were actually talking with someone about this, and one of the ways to affect that (and increase the yield of olive water)  is if you pit the olives before you crush them, you won’t have pits being extracted into that water…. We have looked into buying the pitter.”   However, one of the problems is that when crushed without pits, “everything squirts out – the pits give it more texture.”

Naughton said the anti-oxidant content of olive water can be easily tested by laboratories, adding that the development of the byproduct into an anti-aging cream developed after people noticed that olive workers in Spain, who should look very weathered, somehow managed to have smooth skin.  “They were washing with the water,” she said.  Today, “you can see the little tiny bottles of it on-line.”

Catherine Demeth-Pepe, who oversees Temecula Olive Oil Company’s retail outlets, said, “we do have some ladies who come in for our citrus oil and they use it as a body oil.  We sell it for $17.99 for a large-sized bottle.  You can’t go to Estée Lauder for that!”

One of the women in the group laughingly shook some of the citrus olive oil that had been served with the pizza onto her hand and spread it onto her arms.  “Ooooh, wonderful!” she exclaimed, prompting general merriment.

Curry said that another possible use for olive oil is ice cream, explaining “ice cream is an emulsification product so you need the fat.  Even using the traditional olive oil, you can make ice cream out of that – with sea salt.”

And, commented, another guest, “It has no cholesterol.”

“Actually,” said Curry, “a lot of studies show that it can lower your bad cholesterol and raise the good cholesterol.”

Marvin Spira, a consultant to food industries and to SDSU, pantomimed drinking an  entire bottle of the olive oil to bring his cholesterol down.

Ehrlich said that he had been in Israel last summer and “I was sitting next to a biochemist who says that he takes two tablespoons of olive oil a day, and his cholesterol is at a theoretical zero. …  He said he puts it on his yogurt in the morning.”

The afternoon of brainstorming about possible entrepreneurial products illustrated the excitement that can be generated among creative people with common interests, even those who come from countries that are traditionally adversaries or even enemies.

Husseini acknowledged in an interview with San Diego Jewish World that the Husseinis are one of the well-known extended families who have played a part in Jerusalem history for centuries.  However, he cautioned, just because someone is named Husseini does not mean he is closely related to other Husseinis.  “It’s like the name ‘Cohen’,” among Jews, he explained.  While Cohens may trace their family branches to a common root, they do not automatically consider each other cousins.

Husseini said he is proud that his own family has a reputation for humanitarianism.  He said his father, Dr. Najah Husseini,  retired a few years ago as an orthopedic surgeon with Hadassah Hospital.  “He was a very prominent doctor there, very kind to his patients.  He loves his work, and even today, though he is retired from the hospital, he works a lot over the West Bank.  And, he added, “my mother is a genius: she builds houses.”

Husseini asked me, “Did you ever see the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding?   That is my family.  Everybody tells each other what to do, interferes with each other’s business, and I love that!”

In his own career, Husseini, 38, created Ivycon International, an Italian company specializing in software solutions, especially for high performance automobiles.   He subsequently was invited by USAID in Jerusalem to become a fellow of the Aspen Institute and the first meeting he attended, in Jordan, was eye opening.

At that meeting, “Palestinians, Israelis, Saudis, Lebanese, Syrians, Jordanians, Kuwaitis, Qataris, and other people from the Middle East came together.  These were not politicians, they were CEOs, general managers and directors of big organizations, and we came together and we talked about leadership.  They gave you a bunch of essays to read and then you have to discuss them as a group.  It was one of the most profound experiences that I have ever gone through.  Initially believing that as a Palestinian I was the odd man out, I found out that the Israelis also believe everyone hates them, and so do the Lebanese, and the Saudis.  So there was this leadership in the room and we got that  monkey on the table and we discussed it, and we realized that each of us is weak as one entity but we are very strong when we are united.  So the Aspen Institute changed my life by making me think outside the box more than I was doing.”

The Aspen Institute urges its participants to try to change the world for the better, not in a small way, but in a major way.   “They don’t demand it, but you feel an obligation to be part of this elite group to do so.   So I went back to Jerusalem and I am thinking to myself what can I do to really have an impact?  And I thought to myself, I can do something on the Palestinian side myself, but wouldn’t it be better to do a joint project?  So I go to the Peres Center – the Peres Center didn’t come to me – and I meet Oren there and I explain to him my vision of what I would like to do, and it seems that I hit it right on the nail because that is what they wanted to do.”

However, Husseini had been thinking along the lines of joint projects for water recycling, or bio-diesel generation from algae, whereas Blonder was pushing the concept of encouraging entrepreneurship, explaining “Sam, this project is to generate companies and creating employment.”

Agreeing with the concept, Husseini formed the  Lion Heart consulting company in Jerusalem as a vehicle for this work.

With relations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel so tense—particularly as the proximity talks are occurring under U.S. sponsorship—does Husseini ever worry about his safety as he promotes regional cooperation?

He responded:  “My wife told me, ‘Sam, I don’t want you to get involved with politics.’  I said, ‘I am not.  I am involved with leadership.’ She says, ‘you are involved with the Peres Center and that is a political entity.’   I will be very frank with you. There is a part of me that is worried.  Yes there is.  But I am also worried that nobody does something and that worries me even more. So I am inspired by the Aspen Institute to do something and I want to do something.  I really want to do something.  I am worried because of the Peres Center affiliation but my joy is overcoming my fear.”

And whereas Husseini cooperates with the Peres Center—in reaching out to other Palestinians—he does not always agree with the Peres Center’s philosophy. 

“Israelis and Palestinians are not different,” he said.  “The same characteristics  good and bad that exist with Israelis exist with the Palestinians.  Me and my friend Oren (Blonder), we argue all the time, and we argue how to solve the situation.  We argue on a positive note.  He believes that we should have a two-state solution and I really highly respect that. My opinion is that we should have a one-state solution.  I just cannot believe that we can divide the people up, the sons of Abraham. We have so much in common and we have one piece of land that is so tiny.  I just don’t believe we can divide it up. … The country is so tiny and I just believe we need to be united.  It is a crazy dream and I am going to try to live everyday with this dream until something happens.”

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Harrison is editor of

San Diego Jewish World
 

 

San Diego organizes to help Russian immigrée cancer patient

May 16, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–Tatyana Chernyachovskaya, an immigrant from Russia,  had been building a new life for herself and her family.  She had a good job in the biology depeartment at Mesa College.  Her children are enrolled at Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School.  And then a rare form of cancer struck.

Now, friends in and out of the Jewish community are organizing in her behalf. 

Following is a public service announcement:

The major fissure in the Jewish world

May 16, 2010 1 comment

By Lloyd Levy

Lloyd Levy

EILAT, Israel –A major fault line exists, not merely in California geology, but in the Jewish world ! The split is about two Jewish world views that are difficult to reconcile. On the one hand are the mainstream western Diaspora Jews, and on the other hand Israeli Jews. They each represent completely different views of the Jewish situation. The administration of President Obama has very much crystallised and opened up this break.

This situation has been so, for thousands of years. Most Jews that had been exiled to Babylon, chose to stay there in the Diaspora, even when some went back to Jerusalem to build the Second Temple in 6th Century BCE.

The modern situation goes back to the French Revolution in Europe 200 years ago. This was 100 years before Jews emigrated in vast numbers from Russia and Eastern Europe to USA. The American community was virtually non existent, but its equivalent western Diaspora Communities were in Germany and France. Until that point in time, the Jews were very much a self contained community, and thought of themselves as a Jewish Nation, not merely as a religion.

After the French Revolution, the Jews in Germany became Germans of Jewish religious belief, or French citizens of Jewish belief etc. In Germany there developed a “Jewish” ideology redefining the notion of the Jews being chosen as a people (because they no longer believed Jews to be a “people”), to the notion that the Jews were chosen to spread a message of toleration and understanding throughout society as a whole. It is this new ideology that led to what became “reform” Judaism in Germany, and which essentially was adopted by the mainstream liberal Jewish community in America.

On the other hand, the Jews of Russia were not accepted as citizens by their Government, and they retained a sense of the Jewish Nation. This concept has to a great extent been carried over into the modern state of Israel, which does stress Jewish Nationalism and the sense that the re-awoken Jewish nation is the future.

Therefore, two forms of Judaism developed, one in Western Europe and then in USA, and another one in Israel. They both see themselves as the future, and this potential conflict of interest, in my opinion, is the main fissure within Judaism, and not the Ashkenazi/Sephardi split.

So where does this relate to President Obama? His Administration contains many Jews, and he seems to court Jewish support, to the extent that he is almost a “Jewish” President in many ways. His worldview reflects the liberal Jewish Establishment mentality. Yet he appears to be unsympathetic to the concept of a Jewish State . This theoretically opens up the fault line as discussed earlier. In UK and France, the Jewish Establishment has invariably been loath under any circumstances, to show any dual loyalty. At the time of the Dreyfus Affair, the French Jewish leadership did nothing to support Dreyfus, whose plight was taken up by non Jews. In UK, the Jewish establishment was anti-Zionist at the time of the Balfour Declaration, and lobbied against the establishment of a Jewish State. Many would argue that little has changed in the view of the British Jewish Establishment since then !

It will be interesting to see how the American Jewish community reacts to this paradox.  I expect that  the Jewish secular establishment, will increasingly find itself critical of Israel, and shout loudly about its own loyalty to the American Dream. The average Jew, and the more traditionally orthodox, will continue to support Israel through thick and thin.

Whatever the future holds, we need to bear one overwhelming fact in mind-  namely that both Israel and USA each contain approx. 6 million Jews. That number is of course tattooed onto every Jew’s forearm, and neither community must be allowed to fail. 

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Levy divides his time between homes in London and Eilat

White House aides win favor with visiting rabbis

May 16, 2010 Leave a comment

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–It is worth reading this item from the Jerusalem Post. http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?ID=175654
Senior Jewish advisors of the President, meeting with a selected group of American rabbis, said that the White House erred in its messages about Israel. Not only do they reiterate American support for Israel in general terms, but they express reasoning that should resonate with those who understand Israel.

The Americans appreciate that Israel’s frustration with peace efforts stems from rejected offers and Arab aggression.

The meeting might even satisfy Israelis on the touchy issue of Iran. The White House recognizes that Israel’s nuclear activities are different from Iran’s and cannot be defused without achieving a genuine peace that appears to be far into the future. Rahm Emanuel explained the Administration’s apparent dithering on sanctions as an important tactic. UN sanctions must come first to make it possible for the European Union to impose its own sanctions, and then for the United States to add its dose.
The White House selected the rabbis who were invited for their geographic and congregational diversity (i.e., Orthodox, Conservative and Reform), as well as records of expressing disappointment with the White House but refraining from outright condemnation.
Such a meeting tells me that the President and his advisors learn, and that the American Jewish community provides effective instruction. It also helps that the Israeli government is multi-faceted. Alongside the barely tolerated bombast of Benyamin Netanyahu and the rasping of Avigdor Lieberman is the moderate, but insistent voice of Ehud Barak.
Whoever thinks that Israeli politics are dysfunctional should think again.
Call all of this the power of Jewish voters and Jewish money if you will. For me, it is the strength of the Israeli argument bolstered by the capacity of Jews to express themselves to holders of power.
I can sign on to a much of what Netanyahu and Lieberman say, although I am uncomfortable with their style. Lieberman is unequaled in his capacity to bring forth condemnation. Yet he makes sense, even in details that are unpleasant to contemplate.
He has responded with typical shrillness to the statements of prominent Israeli Arabs on Nakba Day. The well known preacher, Sheikh Ra’ed Salah, got the most attention. As usual, he drew thousands to his appearance. He shrieked his opposition to Palestinian compromise with Israel, and demanded the right of refugees to return to their homes in Haifa, Safed, Ramle, and Lod.
Calmer voices note that surveys show a majority of Israeli Arabs content with their lives, but the incitement of the Sheikh led Lieberman to reiterate his assessment about the danger to Israel from its Arab citizens.
He sees them as a greater threat to the future of the Jewish state than Hamas or Hizbollah. On several occasions he has proposed trading the land and people of areas in northern Israel heavily populated by Arabs for areas of Jewish settlement in the West Bank.
There is as much chance of doing that as a snowball surviving in hell, but Lieberman’s point is worth considering by those who accuse Israel of being unfair to its Arab minority.
The extent of “unfairness” can be debated both on the grounds of reality and the fuzzier norms of justice.
An American analogy is appropriate.
In several of these notes I have reported on the better scores of Israeli Arab on indicators of living standards–relative to the Jewish majority–than those of African Americans relative to American whites.
Think also of a minority where individuals in leadership roles employ rhetoric like the most radical of those who gathered around the Black Panthers a half century ago. The same minority (i.e., Israeli Arabs) lacks the leavening provided by African American politicians who work within the establishment, advance to positions of power as chairs of committees of Congress, mayors of large cities, and power brokers in the politics of numerous states. Out of their actions came affirmative action and what it meant for the couple now residing in the White House.
It is not so much repression by Jews that keeps most aspiring Arab leaders from working with national leaders, but the temptation to score points among Arab voters by persistent and harsh criticism of everything Israel does in domestic and foreign policy. The few Arab politicians who have chosen to work within the major parties have gotten rewards for themselves and their constituencies.
Arab citizens of Israel need not worry about Lieberman. His most fervent supporters are a minority among Israeli Jews, and the Supreme Court is as much a bastion of civil rights as its American equivalent. More open than the question of transferring Israeli citizens to Palestine is the question of transferring the Arabs of East Jerusalem. The vast majority of them did not accept Israel’s offer of citizenship. Yet even that prospect of trading people and areas of the city is one of the details that is a long way from being decided, or even debated.
Ironically, the meeting in the White House may join previous good intentions of President Obama in pushing further away the prospects of accommodation. Arabs are as least as sensitive as Jews. The President cannot warm up to one without provoking antagonism from the other.
It will not be a short road, and 100 years into the conflict it is too early to predict success for yet another outsider intent on bringing peace to this region with a contentious history and jittery inhabitants.    


Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University