FLYING UNDER THE RADAR
REOPENING ISRAEL TOURISM
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
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1000 WORDS Sami Steigmann Crashes Clubhouse.....................................................................................................
COVER STORY Flying Under the Radar: The women warriors of Israel’s elite combat intelligence unit ......................................................
FOOD Shawarma Chicken, Israeli Salad and Tahini Dressing..............................................................
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FEATURES Adat Yeshurun Celebrates Milestone Rabbinic Installation.................................................... Online Jewish Learning...............................................................................................................................
Israel Revs up to Reopen for Tourism.................................................................................................
Dr. Gary: A Friend to Animals................................................................................................................... Haredi Duo Takes Israeli Comedy World by Storm.................................................................... Making Room For The Broken Heart.................................................................................................
Prayers & Passages..................................
Mazel and Mishagoss............................
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TORAH l BY RABBI-CANTOR CHERI WEISS
& passages Remembrance
f someone asks you about Jewish holidays, your response probably involves Passover, the High Holy Days and Chanukah. You may also think of Sukkot and Purim. These are holidays that are either detailed in the Torah or Talmud and have, therefore, been celebrated for thousands of years. Honoring and learning from our past anchors our Jewish hearts and continues to propel us forward. In the last century, our Jewish calendar has expanded to honor additional days of reverence, three of which will be celebrated this year in April: Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel Remembrance Day) followed by Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day). Yom HaShoah commemorates the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis during World War II as well as those who fought in the resistance movement. Yom HaZikaron honors those who died founding of the State of Israel and those in the military who perished defending the State. In recent years, this day has come to also include civilians who have died as a result of terrorism. Yom HaAtzmaut celebrates Israel’s Independence Day. All three of these days deserve as much reverence as our long-established holidays. In Israel, on both Yom HaShoah and Yom Ha’Zikaron, alarms lasting between one
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
and two minutes are sounded throughout the country. Activity comes to a complete halt for the duration; even those who are driving stop their vehicles and stand in silence. Although many years have passed since I lived in Israel, the piercing sound still echoes in my memory, and I remember the way people lowered their heads in respect for those gone but not forgotten. Outside Israel, it is mainly synagogues and other Jewish organizations who offer programming to honor the dead and the State of Israel on these days. The further away we are from the establishment of these holidays, the more important it is for us to find ways to honor them. Holocaust survivors have been telling their stories to spellbound audiences, but they are soon to be a lost generation. Future generations will not have the opportunity to hear a first-hand account directly from a survivor. Instead, they will have to rely on archival footage, videos of survivors’ stories, museums, the Internet and books in order to learn details of the tragedy that befell our people. The impact will not be as great. American Jewish commitment to Israel is, sadly, not as strong as it was in previous generations. Its establishment as a State in 1948 offered hope to those whose families were lost during the Holocaust and served as a living testament that Jews now had a
place to go in the event of a future threat to their existence. Yet today, decades later, we have become complacent, confident in our status as Americans and our belief that such a tragedy as the Holocaust could never happen again. This is a mistake. Our current national fractured psyche proves that our hold on the freedoms we enjoy is tenuous. Jewish life is bound up in collective remembrance. This is what has kept us alive as a people for thousands of years. I, therefore, encourage you to take time this year and in years to come to refresh your memory on the horrors of the Holocaust and to renew your commitment to the State of Israel. It is by honoring our Jewish past that we preserve the future for generations of Jews to come. RABBI-CANTOR CHERI WEISS IS THE FOUNDER AND SPIRITUAL LEADER OF THE SAN DIEGO OUTREACH SYNAGOGUE, A POST-DENOMINATIONAL CONGREGATION THAT WELCOMES PEOPLE OF ALL AGES AND BACKGROUNDS INTERESTED IN EXPLORING A UNIQUE MIXTURE OF TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY JEWISH MUSIC, PRAYER AND LEARNING. SHE IS ALSO THE FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR OF THE SAN DIEGO JEWISH COMMUNITY CHOIR, WHICH EXPLORES A WIDE VARIETY OF JEWISH MUSIC INCLUDING LITURGICAL PRAYERS, ISRAELI FAVORITES, MUSICAL THEATER AND OTHER POPULAR SONGS BY JEWISH COMPOSERS AND MUCH MORE.
MY COMIC RELIEF l BY SALOMON MAYA
Oh, for Shiva's sake!
bout two weeks ago, as I walked out of my office, I received a FaceTime video call request from both of my older brothers. Immediately, I felt an uneasy shiver run through my spine. This could only mean one of two things: a very annoying butt dial or something bad had happened. And unfortunately, the latter was indeed the reason for the unique call. My aunt had suddenly passed. She wasn’t sick. She just left the earth as quickly as one would turn off a light. And like that, instead of heading home for a night of fighting with the kindergartner to do his homework, I was off to my parent’s house, to console my father, who had just lost another sister. A shiva in the time of COVID-19 is awkward to say the least. Dealing with numerous people wanting to share in the mourning but at the same time advising those same people that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic proved to be troublesome. Zoom shivas sort of work, as it allows people near and far to show support, but as this is the third shiva I have accompanied my father to, I started to wonder about why we even go through this entire process. 8
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
My first “legit” shiva was when my father’s brother passed away. The shiva was held in Mexico City and I was in my early twenties. What amazed me about the shiva ritual is how much we ate during the seven days. The line of people bringing the grieving family food seemed to be endless. I remember smoking way too many cigarettes, back when I fell victim to that disgusting habit. This shiva was tough. I gained weight. My lungs hurt from the smoking. And all I did was just sit, stand, pray. Repeat. However, by day seven I realized how much time one can devote to bettering oneself when all you have is family, time to truly ponder about life – and Mexican food. My late aunt’s shiva was much more subdued but still felt the same. Masks hid our tears. Food masked our sadness. But bonds were born from her passing, from remembering her life and honoring it, with a side of borekas of course. Try to explain a shiva to someone who isn’t Jewish and they might look at you with a puzzled gaze. “Wait, you literally sit on the ground for seven days?” They might ask. “So family members cook for you and take care
of you?” They might ponder. “Oh well we just go to a funeral, possibly church, and then home. Maybe a viewing.” They state on their traditions. And yet here we are. Taping sheets to cover mirrors. Praying two times a day for seven days with the Shabbat exception. Cooking way too much food and at the same time reliving the lost one’s memories and sharing stories about how they impacted our lives. Laughing. Crying. Smiling. Hugging. COVID be damned. Shivas remind us how fragile we truly are. How short life can be. And how very lucky we are to be part of a religion that allows us seven days to reminisce and most importantly rejoice in the memory of our family members … the ones who have left us and in odd way, the ones who’re still here as well. May all of their memories be a blessing. SALOMON MAYA IS A LOCAL EMMY-WINNER, ACTOR AND PLAYWRIGHT. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @SALOMAYA OR EMAIL HIM AT SALOMONM@LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM.
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
WORDS SAMI STEIGMANN CRASHES CLUBHOUSE
n a blustery day in late January, Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann, 81, made his debut on Clubhouse — the buzzy, audio-based, social-media platform that launched in the venture capital and Hollywood communities last spring and now connects millions of “regular” folk with celebrities for spontaneous conversations. Steigmann, who lives below the poverty line in Harlem, N.Y., was preparing to speak outside the United Nations on International Holocaust Remembrance Day for an “End Jew Hated” rally. Jewish rapper Kosha Dillz, a 30-something who assists Steigmann with errands, decided to come along to hear his friend. Inspired by Steigmann, Dillz (whose real name is Rami Even-Esh), helped the octogenarian set up a Clubhouse account, thinking it would be nice for his friend to join a conversation taking place for Holocaust remembrance. Dillz stressed the value of bringing his friend’s message of tolerance, survivorship and bridge-building to audiences beyond the Jewish world. “The spaces that would normally host Sami are Jewish places or museums,” said Dillz. “It’s very comfortable to preach to the choir. But that’s not all we need.” Adam Swig, a San Francisco-based event producer whose nonprofit, Value Culture, seeks to build bridges among communities, has worked with Dillz to host several Clubhouse events including Steigmann, such as a Clubhouse Passover seder called “Night of 1,000 Jewish Stars,” where comedians Tiffany Haddish and Jeff Garlin of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” dropped in to chat.
Holocaust survivor Sami Steigmann outside of the U.N. headquarters building in New York City on International Holocaust Remembrance Day for an “End Jew-Hated” rally, Jan. 27, 2021.
Swig said that amplifying the voices of elders is crucial, especially given Holocaust survivors’ dwindling numbers and the rise in online hate, particularly in this pandemic year. “Kosha [Dillz] and I take ‘Never Again’ very seriously,” said Swig. “It is ingrained in us, and we want to honor these people and their life experiences. ... These stories need to be told [and] ... the most powerful thing about [using Clubhouse] is it’s in real time; we are all in the same room, you can interact with a survivor.”
The original Clubhouse event with Steigmann wound up lasting 16 hours, five of them comprised of Steigmann taking questions from participants ranging from a government minister in Dubai to German descendants of Nazi SS members. By its conclusion, Steigmann had amassed more than 5,000 followers, and Swig was determined to bring Steigmann’s voice to more hearts and minds. Steigmann, who feels an urgency to reach more listeners, praised the platform’s reach. “Clubhouse is gaining speed,” he said. WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM
Swig said that amplifying the voices of elders is crucial, especially given Holocaust survivors’ dwindling numbers and the rise in online hate, particularly in this pandemic year. “You never know who will be there, from what country and what the questions will be ... a platform where people come in and out ... at one point there were 10,000 people, so you have reach.” Some participants have asked about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Swig pointed out that Steigmann has been a “model” for younger listeners in how to civilly respond to anti-Israel sentiment. “I explained that I can’t answer intelligently without context — when, where, and, most important, why did something happen,” said Steigmann. “And I invited them to follow up with me privately for a conversation.” Asked what he said to descendants of Nazi SS members, Steigmann said he stressed that “children and grandchildren are not guilty of what their grandparents did ... not to feel guilty, but not to follow in their footsteps.” The February event introducing the octogenarian as the first Holocaust survivor on Clubhouse drew in as many as 10,000 participants, including other Holocaust survivors, among them Eva Perlman, author of Eva’s Uncommon Life: Guided by Miracles, a book about her family’s Holocaust survival. It ended up with Steigmann speaking and taking questions for 14 hours straight without a break. Swig recalled that “Sami wanted to take every question, and that marathon session made the ‘Legend of Sami,’ but I was worried about him because that’s a long time.” (One listener, a medical professional, sent Steigmann “kosher steaks” to his Harlem apartment to make sure he was eating during the marathon event). “It was a surprise because this doctor didn’t even know me,” said Steigmann. “She sent enough steak and french fries for two.” He added, “The steak was excellent.” Steigmann, who survived Nazi medical experiments performed on him as an infant at the Mogilev-Podolsky Labor Camp in 12
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
Transnistria, credits his stamina to his training in the Israel Defense Forces when he worked for 36 hours straight repairing Mirage 3-C fighter jets during the 1967 SixDay War. (After World War II, he and his parents first repatriated to Romania, then ultimately, the family, including a younger sister Betty born in 1946, immigrated to Israel in 1961). Steigmann will again appear on Clubhouse for Yom Hashoah as part of an event called “Voices from the Holocaust: Meet the Survivors.” It will commemorate Israel’s official Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust, which is also the Hebrew calendar anniversary of the first day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (The revolt began on April 19, 1943, and ended four weeks later, on May 16.) Steigmann plans to speak of Jewish resistance. “I’ll talk about how Israel is the world’s only Jewish country and to remember Jews did resist; they did not go like sheep,” said Steigmann. “There was not only armed resistance but spiritual, and humanitarian resistance.” He will also point out that the young Warsaw Ghetto fighters “against the mighty German Army, lasted more than a month, longer than many nations in Europe.” Other survivors set to participate include Perlman. Musical performers will include clarinetist Jonathan Hadas of the Israeli Philharmonic and songwriter/musician Happie Hoffman. Bridge-building between the Jewish and other communities has been a theme of Steigmann’s appearances on the platform. Following the welcome event, Swig brought together Steigmann and Dr. Clarence B. Jones, now 90, who served as an attorney for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and wrote the book, What Would Martin Say, to discuss King’s legacy.
“I was able to tell Dr. Jones I admired not only what Dr. King accomplished, but the way he accomplished it through nonviolence,” said Steigmann. Kianta Key, 34, an Atlanta-based socialmedia strategist who describes herself as a “black woman in the South” with an interest in social justice, was listening when Steigmann appeared on Clubhouse with Jones. Key said she feels grateful to have heard from a “primary source.” “To hear this Holocaust survivor whose temperament was so peaceful” impacted her, she said. “His message was: You have to be able to trust people, you can’t let anger hinder you from living your best life.” Key noted that the last time she heard a Holocaust survivor speak was about 25 years ago when author Elie Wiesel appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She analogized the effort to bring Steigmann and other Holocaust survivors to Clubhouse to a WPA program to interview African-Americans who were living survivors of slavery. “For Holocaust deniers, their capacity for denial is ingrained, so I’m not sure how effective it is in reaching them,” said Key. “But what the Holocaust survivors share on Clubhouse is important for people like me to hear. It makes me feel I must commit to whatever I have to — to make sure no one has to walk that road again.” In the Passover event, Steigmann pointed out that Jews need to stand up for their own even as they stand with others. “Jewish people are fighting for other people, that is wonderful, but when are we going to fight for ourselves?” said Steigmann. “I would like to see when minorities whom we help also help us fight anti-Semitism. It is here, and it is worldwide.”
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COVER STORY | BY YOAV LIMOR AND HILA TIMOR ASHUR, ISRAEL HAYNON VIA JNS.ORG
FLYING UNDER THE RADAR The women warriors of Israel's elite combat intelligence unit
PHOTO COURTESY: ANN JAFFE
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
ome four years ago, in typical secrecy, the Israel Defense Forces’ infamous Unit 8200 established its first company of female warriors. The company operates within the framework of 8200’s combat intelligence unit, which meshes infantry and technology to form the IDF Intelligence Directorate’s reconnaissance outfit. Unlike other combat units in the army, the soldiers in this company are first and foremost tech wizards. This is also how they are recruited: Their technological proficiency is tested first, and only then their physical acumen and fitness as combatants. “We recruit the male and female fighters of the highest caliber, who are also at the highest level technologically,” said Lt. Col. D (36), who has commanded the unit for several months. The combat intelligence unit is 8200’s forward operating arm, and it can reach places keyboard warriors can’t. The soldiers don’t just bring the technology to the front, they also operate it. Inside enemy territory, or close to it, they are tasked with accomplishing what developers and programmers cannot do from afar. Theoretically, this era is a technological Garden of Eden. Everyone has a computer, everyone uses the Internet and sends emails. Everyone has a cell phone, Facebook, WhatsApp. All these create a never-ending flow of information. An attacker only need develop the tools and methods to gather and analyze this information. The reality, of course, is far less simple. First, you need to gather the information. Conversations on WhatsApp, for example, are encrypted. Apple software, meanwhile (unlike Android) is not open-source. Very few countries are capable of bypassing such barriers without leaving a fingerprint. Second, you need the ability to sift through the information. In the past, the brunt of information was via signals intelligence, or SIGINT (or, in simple English, wiretaps). 8200 eavesdropped on phone calls, and the important information was kicked up the priority list. This works on a small scale, but anyone wanting to compile hundreds of millions of emails, personal messages and other sources of information per day needs super-systems capable of storing and automatically analyzing the data. Third, and most importantly, the enemy
is also learning. Whether in terms of collecting information in the cyber sphere — an area in which Iran is particularly active, but also where Hamas is showing surprising and methodical advancement — and in terms of defending against Israeli activity, through upgraded systems and tighter security measures. Most terrorist elements (in Gaza, Judea and Samaria and Lebanon) have understood that Israel is a technological superpower, and long ago transitioned to communicating via alternative means. They don’t allow cell phones in meetings, knowing their microphones or cameras can be remotely activated, avoid sending electronic messages or mail, and often use codewords. “We are more exposed than the average IDF soldier to these capabilities of our enemies,” says Lt. Col. D. “The information security component has become dramatic for them. It obligates us to protect ourselves and to safeguard our operational methods and technology, so it stays a secret, and at the same time find breaches on the other side and exploit them.” All of these defenses are very difficult, and sometimes impossible, to bypass remotely; hence the need to make physical contact with the enemy. On his home turf, in his home and sometimes even up close and personal. The unit does its work in the field — this can be a sleepy Palestinian village in the dead of night, but also enemy territory. The unit’s soldiers operate across all arenas, in all environments. Consequently, a great deal of planning and study is required before each mission, to adapt the operational methods to the conditions on the ground. Sometimes the mission is to install a device, other times to remove a device, and occasionally it’s decrypting something in the field to collect data in real-time. Each mission requires a different operational solution, which is sometimes tailor-made for the unit and on a one-time basis. There is no such thing as a defined operational protocol because no two missions are the same. The soldiers must adapt themselves to each mission—a far cry from the concept employed by many IDF units. The unit’s advantage is its parent unit, 8200, which is divided into departments, each with a specialized focus, mostly pertaining to the cyber sphere. The combat intelligence unit works closely with all these departments on a daily basis, which allows it to find the solutions it needs to its various problems. It is essentially a boutique unit which
performs missions and provides solutions that other units or tools cannot. The more the enemy improves and advances technologically, the greater the demand for these solutions. “Our fighters need to know these technologies very thoroughly because they are often required to make decisions or provide solutions in the field,” said Lt. Col. D. In many cases, what isn’t done in real time will never be done, because the enemy will have destroyed evidence or disappeared. Even if not, it’s doubtful the IDF will go to the same place twice. Therefore, the here-and-now aspect of the mission is critical. Identify, Sort, Verify 8200’s combat unit was established several decades ago as a reserve battalion, becoming part of the regular army in 2011. Today, too, its reservists serve in a combat capacity and participate in quite a few operations. Over the years the unit has undergone changes and adaptations, based on the changing environment and technology. The soldiers, including now female ones as well, operate at any time of day or night, in any terrain. Although the unit belongs to 8200, it works in conjunction with all of Israel’s security and intelligence agencies. In other words, any client of the mother unit, 8200, is also a client of its combat unit. In recent years, 8200 has found it increasingly difficult to recruit new soldiers to its combat unit. Although it is first in the recruitment line ahead of all other units in the IDF (except for the pilot’s course), it isn’t easy finding boys with the requisite technological aptitude who also want to serve in a combat capacity in the unit. Those who choose to be fighters prefer to join special forces or combat battalions, and those who opt to serve in a technological capacity, despite meeting the physical criteria for a combat profile, would rather sit in an office writing code. To contend with this challenge, the unit has devised several solutions. The first is exposure. While secrecy is good for business, it’s bad for recruitment. The youngsters, as stated, choose units they’re familiar with and have heard about. Sayeret Matkal, the IDF’s top special forces unit, and Shaldag (“Kingfisher”), the Israeli Air Force commando unit, are secretive, but over the years have been the focus of countless reports, books and movies, and their operational legacy is robust and WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM
attractive to young men in search of action. 8200’s combat unit is young and anonymous. To overcome this hurdle, the decision was made eight years ago to reveal its existence. At the time there were no female fighters in the unit, which was created as a result of the lessons learned from the Second Intifada and operations in Gaza, and the need to surmount the obstacles Israel’s enemies pose to the IDF in general and to 8200 in particular. The increasing need for high-caliber manpower led to the second decision, made in 2017, to recruit women into the unit. This path was paved, first and foremost, by the success of women in other combat units in the IDF: Around 50 percent of the army’s air-defense controllers and the Home Front Command’s search and rescue battalions (which perform the brunt of routine operations in Judea and Samaria) are women, and this is also the case in the mixed-gender battalions that defend the borders—Caracal, Lions of the Jordan and Bardelas. This success led to more and more women seeking service in a combat capacity. Today, the demand among female recruits for positions in the field is extremely high. The most sought after position, as usual, is instructor — but combat positions aren’t lagging far behind. Some of the women who possess the requisite technical skills lack the physical profile for combat duty, or the motivation (unlike men, Israeli women must ask to serve in a combat role), and some would rather serve in more prominent units and capacities. This amplifies the challenge facing the unit even more: Find the women with talent, sort through them, make sure they want to be combat soldiers and then put them through a doubly arduous training process: technological and combat. Only several dozen women have completed this training since the unit opened its doors to women. Even if you look closely, you won’t find the role of “8200 combat intelligence” on the list of available positions for women in the army’s brochures. Nor will you find it on the Meitav website, which provides information to young men and women prior to enlistment. Female recruits with the potential to serve in the unit are tapped due to their high “Quality Group” score (which summarizes
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
the results from personal interviews and computer-generated psycho-technical test results) and tend to be graduates of scienceoriented tracks in high school. Some of them reach the unit after being dropped from other prestigious courses, such as pilot’s course and the naval academy course. This is also why the Military Intelligence Directorate chose to participate in this article: To let female recruits know about the unit and encourage them to join its ranks—and if they are contacted, not to reject it outright. “I view this article as a great opportunity,” said Lt. Col. D. “Not that we have demand problems, but an article like this can open the minds of many women who interview for the Military Intelligence Directorate, even those who never considered combat service and want to reach 8200.” “Technological warriors,” he calls them. From his perspective, “the combat aspect is the DNA of the role. Initially, their integration was a challenge, but it very quickly got on track. Their motivation to prove themselves is enormous. They are pioneers. And they have many advantages compared to men, which produces impressive operational results.” Women fighters at this age, he explained, “are more mature decision-makers than their male counterparts. In our line of work, maturity and sound judgment are important, because the price of a mistake is dramatic.” Although the female company works separately from the male one, the unit makes sure each mission is assigned to the soldiers most suited to it skills-wise. Hence the women must be prepared for any type of mission on any front. Both companies, male and female, work simultaneously, and when the need arises go on joint missions. That said, women represent just 15 percent of all the soldiers in the unit. One criterion for selecting a soldier for a given mission is physical. For missions involving very long marches with heavy equipment, for example, male soldiers will almost always be selected. Conversely, women are better suited for other missions. The degree of danger, they say in the unit, is not a factor. It is, after all, a combat unit that operates behind enemy lines. “On the modern battlefield, you need more than a grenade or a rifle,” said Lt. Col. D. “It used to be infantry against
infantry or tanks against tanks. Today, the technology comes with tremendous advantages. The female warriors will be part of any battle plan in a future war. Our only consideration will be professional, not based on gender.” In most cases, missions assigned to female soldiers require a prolonged preparation period. Only a handful of missions are spur of the moment. This is because these missions are usually technologically complex and require meticulous planning. What normally happens is the female warriors receive an operational objective, after which they dismantle the problem and begin the process of intensive study. They then devise a specific and unique solution, based on the unit’s comprehensive operational and technological toolbox. These preparations can last for months and on some occasions entail mock-ups of the target. The soldiers of 8200 are actively involved in the planning process. “In the IDF, the person who developed the Merkava tank is not the person teaching others how to shoot with it,” said a senior unit officer. “Here, that’s not the case. The person who developed the most advanced technology in the world also teaches us and is also involved in the process during the operation, because every intelligencerelated question has a technological answer that needs developing.” “8200 comes with a problem, and we come with a solution to that problem,” said Capt. A, the commander of the unit’s female company. “Every mission is different than the one before it—the chances of doing a mission we’ve already done is close to zero. This means every soldier must stretch herself to her limits and beyond, and open a train of thought for something that is infinite. We are the operational arm of 8200. That’s nothing less than the best.” Lt. Col. D added: “Our mission diversity is immense. I don’t think there’s another unit in the army with such a broad operational spectrum.” Note: This article has been trimmed to meet space constrictions. To read the full interview, visit jns.org.
CONGREGATION Adat Yeshurun Marking 'milestone' Rabbinic installation BY JACOB KAMARAS
The Reich family. PHOTO COURTESY ADAT YESHURUN.
ongregation Adat Yeshurun of La Jolla is preparing for the historic installation of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Daniel and Brooke Reich from April 30 to May 2, cementing the milestone of the synagogue’s first rabbinic transition in its 34 year history. La Jolla was forever changed in 1987 when a group of Orthodox observant Jews led by Rabbi Jeff Wohlgelernter established Adat Yeshurun, a vibrant, diverse, Orthodox community known for its welcoming atmosphere of caring and spiritual growth. Rabbi Wohlgelernter initially agreed to lead the synagogue for a year, but remained an energetic and beloved spark, brilliantly teaching and encouraging congregants, and creating one family bound by Torah for 34 years. Following Rabbi Wohlgelernter’s retirement last year, Adat Yeshurun’s major annual fundraiser of 2021 will mark the official installation of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Reich, both in person and virtually with its multifaceted event, dubbed “Milestone.” The event includes a Zoom installation ceremony on Sunday evening that will feature a musical performance by Moshe Storch, who specializes in creating a spiritual and uplifting atmosphere. A pre-installation celebratory Shabbat at Adat Yeshurun will include services led by Storch and lectures from scholar-in-residence Rav Hershel Schachter, head of Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS). “We’ve come to know Rabbi Reich as a dedicated teacher of Torah, an inspirational leader in our prayer services, a spiritual guide in many of our lifecycle events, and an uplifting leader of our community,” said Brian Marcus, President of Adat Yeshurun. “Rabbi Reich’s vision for
our community is clear, his stirring approach to his varied classes is always positive and inclusive, and his commitment to elevating our understanding of Judaism is unsurpassed, touching our hearts and our minds. Rabbi and Rebbetzin Reich have taken over the helm at Adat Yeshurun at this very difficult time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and have nevertheless continued to build on the legacy of Rabbi and Rebbetzin Wohlgerlernter.” Born and raised in Edison, N.J., Rabbi Reich received his B.A. in History from Yeshiva University in New York City. He received his Semikhah (rabbinic ordination) from RIETS, as a member of their Honors Program. Rabbi Reich also completed a Certificate Program in Pastoral Mental Health Counseling. “As a child, I can vividly remember the warm and loving interactions among my grandparents,” Rabbi Reich said. “It was a sight to see as my paternal grandfather, Saba Yehuda z”l, a Holocaust survivor, who spent his adolescence in Auschwitz, and his wife Savta Sarah a”h, a religious Libyan woman, would share a heartfelt interaction with my maternal grandmother, Mommom, a traditional Conservative Jew whose American roots in Somerville, N.J., date back to the 1870s. Through language and cultural barriers, they loved and respected each other. I knew this because they would each respectively educate me to love and respect every Jew and member of society, but even more so I knew this because I witnessed them, as well as my parents, live this way. This fundamental lesson that was fostered at a young age was a personal priority in my family and my community, and it was emphasized in the education I received. This has always been one of the driving forces behind my passion to become a rabbi, and how to lead a congregation.” Rabbi Reich met his Rebbetzin, Brooke, a native of Englewood, N.J., when they were both completing their undergraduate studies at Yeshiva University. They have been married for seven years and currently live in La Jolla Shores with their two daughters, Leeba and Shira and their son, Asher. Brooke, a licensed Social Worker (LCSW), received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from Yeshiva University. In addition to their roles as the Rabbi and Rebbetzin of Adat Yeshurun, the Reichs devote their time to San Diego’s local yeshivas. Brooke is a beloved Judaic Studies faculty member at San Diego Hebrew Day School, while Rabbi Reich teaches at Southern California Yeshiva High School and Torah High School. FOR ADDITIONAL DETAILS ON THE RABBINIC INSTALLATION, WATCH THE ADAT YESHURUN WEBSITE, WWW.ADATYESHURUN.ORG.
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SHAWARMA CHICKEN ISRAELI SALAD AND TAHINI DRESSING BY DEBBIE KORNBERG
s the weather heats up, this Israeli-style lunch or dinner is a great option to have on your patio — or even as a picnic with friends! For the Shawarma, make your own spice blend out of the following: 1/4 cup ground black pepper, 1/4 cup ground allspice, 1/4 cup garlic powder, 2 tablespoons ground cloves, 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground nutmeg, 2 tablespoons ground cardamom, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 1 tablespoon salt. Try grilling the chicken for another option, or replace with cauliflower baked in the oven at 425 degrees for 18 minutes for a vegetarian-friendly version. SHAWARMA CHICKEN
Serves 4-6 1.5 lbs. chicken breasts (cut into ½ inch cubes) 2 -3 Tbsp. Shawarma Blend 2-3 Tbsp. olive oil 1 medium onion, chopped 10 mushrooms, sliced Salt to taste Instructions 1. In a bowl, place cut chicken and sprinkle shawarma blend over chicken until poultry is fully coated with spice blend. Set aside. 2. In a pan, add olive oil and sauté onions (and optional mushrooms). Once onions (and mushrooms) are cooked down, remove from pan place in bowl. Set aside. 3. Add 2 Tbsp. Olive Oil to sauté pan, place stove on high heat. Cook chicken ideally getting a nice sear on the outside of chicken and then turn down to slightly lower heat (medium to med-high) and cook chicken all the way through. (Do not cover pan, chicken will get soggy and rubbery.) 4. Once chicken is fully cooked, add onions and mushrooms, and mix together. Remove from heat and serve! Shawarma pairs well with roasted potatoes, rice, hummus, cucumber-tomato salad and tahini dressing. Enjoy! TAHINI DRESSING
3/4 cup tahini paste Juice of 1 lemon 1 garlic clove, minced 1/8 tsp. sweet paprika Hot water – start with 1/3 cup to 3/4 cup depending for desired
consistency – add more water as you go until you reach your desired consistency. Better to start with less water and add more as you go. A drizzle of olive oil for garnish 1 pinch of spice on top (options can include: paprika, Za’atar, hummus & tahini topper) Instructions 1. Using a food processor minced garlic. If you are using a bowl, mince garlic with knife and place in bowl. 2. Add tahini paste, lemon juice, paprika and 1/4 cup hot water to food processor or bowl. Whisk all ingredients together. Add more water as you go until your desired consistency is reached. The more water you add, the thinner the tahini dressing. (The tahini will seize first but the more water you add, will release it and turn it into a sauce or dressing.) 3. Place tahini in desired serving bowl and garnish with olive oil and desired spice. ISRAELI SALAD
1 cucumber, English or 4 -5 Persian cucumbers, diced 20-30 cherry tomatoes, diced 1 red bell pepper, diced 1 green bell pepper, diced 1/2 to a whole of 1 lemon, juiced 2 Tbsp. olive oil Pinch of salt Optional: Add minced parsley & diced avocado. Instructions 1. Chop all vegetables into small pieces, almost diced and place in bowl. 2. Squeeze lemon (half or whole depending on how lemony you like it.) 3. Add olive oil and a pinch of salt. 4. Toss well. Taste and adjust according to taste preferences. Note: For more recipes like this, visit www.spiceitupwithdeb.com and www.spiceandleaf.com.
Bridging the gap between US Jews and Israel BY MICHELE CHABIN VIA JNS.ORG
The small virtual classrooms of the Ofek Hub program encourage interaction between students and teachers, as well as among students. PHOTO COURTESY OF ISRAELI AMERICAN COUNCIL
hen the first wave of coronavirus infections reached the American South, Rabbi Charlie CytronWalker of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, knew the religious school’s classes at his synagogue would have to move online. But he also knew his institution was illequipped to make that change. “We are a small congregation — 170 households — and our religious school is generally run by volunteer teachers,” Cytron-Walker said. “We don’t have a paid religious school director. When COVID hit, 20
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we literally had no clue what we were going to do. We did not feel that parents without education training would be able to create a safe environment or teach online.” Searching for options Amy Hamilton, chair of Beth Israel’s education committee, discovered the Ofek Learning Hub, an Israel-centered, Jewish distance learning program taught by experienced educators and accessible to students of all ages in North America and beyond. Launched in the spring by the Israeli American Council, or IAC, the program offers classes on an array of topics related
to Judaism, Jews and Israel in Hebrew or English (or both). The idea is to maintain and cultivate American Jews’ connection to Israel even at a time when travel to Israel is not possible because of the coronavirus. Ofek Hub’s development is part of the IAC’s general approach to identifying needs in the American Jewish community and coming up with innovative ways to meet them. Founded by Israeli Americans living in California, the IAC has made this sort of startup mentality part of the organization’s DNA. In this case, Ofek Hub was created to
meet the urgent needs of North American Jews left without an educational framework when COVID-19 suddenly forced them to shutter their schools, synagogues and Jewish community centers. Its small virtual classrooms (10-15 students) encourage interaction between students and teachers, as well as among students. The program’s mostly Israeli-American teachers have been trained to utilize the latest online learning tools specifically suited for distance learning. Most of the classes run for five sessions and cost $65. While many of the classes are directed at young children, teens and adults use Ofek Hub, too. So far, more than 1,600 students have taken over 100 courses through the program. “We saw a community in need,” said Shoham Nicolet, IAC’s co-founder and CEO. “When the pandemic struck there was confusion. Everything stopped in one day. People weren’t clear what education would look like.” Although the hub was born in response to the pandemic, it’s not just for the pandemic, Nicolet said, highlighting Ofek Hub’s broader mission to help Jews in the Diaspora strengthen their ties with Israel, Israelis and the Jewish people as a whole. “Ofek will be here for many years,” Nicolet said. “We said there is a crisis, but what opportunities can the crisis bring to the Jewish community? This is an opportunity to make Israel-focused Jewish education affordable and cutting-edge for individuals and institutions.” For the IAC, creating Ofek Hub is a natural progression. The organization was founded 13 years ago to help Israelis living in North America feel more anchored to both Israel and their local Jewish communities. “We saw a threat,” Nicolet said. “They weren’t connected to the American Jewish community and were integrating into larger American society at a high rate. For the most part, they were ignored by both the American Jewish community and Israel, and as a result
got disconnected from everything.” IAC’s outreach has helped an entire generation of young Israeli Americans feel connected to their Israeli roots and one another, he said. The organization’s events also draw large numbers of young Jews whose families are not Israeli. Ofek’s online community is similarly helping people feel more connected at a time when Jewish institutions have had to scale back or eliminate in-person gatherings due to COVID-19, Nicolet said. The courses include Hebrew ulpan language learning (beginner to advanced) as well as classes on Israeli innovation, Israeli culture, food, music and diversity, the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, the effects of technology on children, a course geared to bar- and bat-mitzvah kids, book clubs and more. Michelle Levin, 55, and her daughter Gabriella Levin-Meer, 16, of Marin, California, decided to study Hebrew with Ofek because they wanted to maintain and improve the level of Hebrew they attained while living in Israel a few years ago. “Taking this class online is such a game changer,” said Michelle Levin, who enrolled in consecutive Level 2 Hebrew classes for adults. Gabriella took Hebrew with other high school students. “The flexibility of being able to take a class from home means that I can just sign in and go,” Levin said. “You also can’t beat the price. The teachers are all very professional and devoted. They truly want to provide a class that meets all of the students’ needs.” Levin said she felt a growing sense of Jewish community thanks to the interactions with her classmates, who hailed from Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Brooklyn. “The instructors are very innovative in using technology to bring the Hebrew language alive,” she said. “They often use short videos of songs and conversations which show natural language and then we discuss. The classes are very well organized.” On the class WhatsApp group, students
and teachers continued to chat during the week. “We are truly creating an online community of learners — something that I wasn’t sure would be possible,” Levin said. Bobbi Feinstein from Las Vegas enrolled her 12-year-old granddaughter Sari and one of Sari’s friends in an Ofek baking class for tweens. “The kids loved the class and the recipes,” Feinstein said. “Sari isn’t fluent in conversational Hebrew, so the teacher used the cooking class to teach Hebrew in a fun and engaging way. The amazing thing was that my granddaughter did not even notice she was learning Hebrew.” Thanks to the class, Feinstein said, when she and Sari are baking together, her granddaughter enthusiastically teaches her what she has learned. “It’s been a win-win,” Feinstein said. When Beth Israel partnered with Ofek, the synagogue worked with the program to create content customized to the congregation’s needs. Today, all of its Hebrew school classes are run by the hub. In one Sunday school class, teacher Mor Cohen taught the seven days of creation with an animated video and game that required her young charges to match words (sky, animals, fish, birds, day, night, rest) with days one to seven. The students chatted not just with Cohen but with one another. Hamilton, the synagogue’s education committee chair, said Ofek’s classes have exceeded expectations. “My bar for success was not hearing complaints,” Hamilton said. “In reality, the students are saying they’re getting a lot out of the experience. They’re continuing their Jewish education while feeling part of something. What more can we ask?” Note: This article was originally produced by Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s native content team for the Israeli American Council.
ISRAEL Tourism Israel revs up to reopen
BY DEBORAH FINEBLUM | JNS.ORG Hotels by the Dead Sea in southern Israel on July 10, 2019. PHOTO BY GERSHON ELINSON/FLASH90
ring us your tired, your down-clad and pandemic-weary souls yearning to breathe ... a lungful of Israeli air. With apologies to Emma Lazarus and her poem “The New Colossus” that adorns the Statue of Liberty, for many, that yearning to be in Israel — even the glimmer of a hope to be able to make the trip—can come down to a particular sight or sound, smell or taste that’s a welcome balm to today’s COVID weary world (see below for some experiences
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guaranteed to whet your appetite). Of course, there are certain hurdles to be cleared first. After more than a five-week shutdown, Ben-Gurion International Airport partially reopened its skies earlier this month. And, even when they are once again fully operational, visitors and citizens may still face a mandatory two-week bidud (“quarantine”) period—something that can put a serious crimp in touring. But such mere logistical obstacles can’t
stifle the longing. Our slogan is “Dream now, travel later,” says Sara Salansky, a senior official in Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. Those dreams take Dr. Elana TunitskyBitton both backward and forward: backward to earlier visits she made with her husband, Andre, and their three children, and forward to the one she’s hoping they’ll be able to make soon. “Now that the kids are older, they’re the perfect age to do all
the things we couldn’t do when they were little,” says Tunitsky-Bitton, an obstetrician, speaking from her office in West Hartford, Conn. Topping her personal bucket list? A family backpack trip through the north with hikes through the Golan Heights and the Hula Valley’s famed nature reserve. And as anxious as such would-be travelers as Tunitsky-Bitton are to make the trip, Israel’s moribund travel industry is no less eager to get back to work. Coming off a record-breaking 2019 with its 4.5 million visitors, more airlines entering the market and its 42 billion-shekel impact on the economy, “everyone thought in 2020, we’d hit 5 million, but instead, the pandemic brought near-total collapse,” says Salansky. The virus has impacted not only the millions of frustrated would-be tourists, but the hundreds of thousands of Israelis dependent on tourism — from the top hotel executive to the taxi driver to the bagel baker to the family owning a souvenir shop on Jerusalem’s Ben-Yehuda Street to the immigrant dad supporting his children mopping hotel floors after a convention. And among the hardest hit are Israel’s 4,000-plus tour guides. A year ago, Shalom Israel Tours and its thousands of customers kept 25 of these guides hopping with group trips crisscrossing the country. This year, reports owner Shalom Stark, his former guides are working as security guards or in other jobs — he himself is devoted full-time to high-tech these days—or living off government benefits and dwindling savings. Domestic travel has helped somewhat, say observers, with Israelis patronizing national parks and attractions, resorts and hotels (when not closed for a nationwide segur, or “lockdown”). Though these “stay-cations,” especially in demand during high travel times like summer vacation, have taken the chill off
the industry’s depression, they represent less than half the revenue of the fully-functioning travel scene, according to Salansky. But Israelis can’t stay down for long, and in this case, much of their optimism is delivered via syringe. “We have the highest incidence of vaccinated citizens in the world,” says Moti Efrati, vice chairman of the country’s Tour Guides Association. “That looks good for domestic tourism and, eventually, for international, too.” According to statistics as of March 14, Israel has vaccinated more than 5.1 million people (about 55 percent of the population). Of the overall figure, more than 4.2 million people (45.3 percent of the population) have received the second dose of the vaccine. Those in the Israel Defense Forces completed vaccination as of March 12. Waiting with anticipation are teens ready for their summer and gap-year programs, grandparents longing to treat a grandchild to an Israeli bar/bat mitzvah, organizations hoping to resume their conventions there and, quite possibly the most motivated of all, those with Israeli children and grandchildren they haven’t been able to hug in a year. It’s this kind of travel, says Salansky, “that’s always built even stronger bonds between Israel and Jews around the world.” Take Janis Monat of Sharon, Mass., for instance. It’s been 18 years since the clinical social worker mother of two has set foot in Israel, and what is she looking forward to the most? Besides “all the new museums and exhibits that have been built since my last visit,” she says, “I’m also craving talking with a native Israeli or two, feeling their warmth, hearing their delightful accent.” “So many people are ready to come as soon as they can get here, and with the vaccine, hopefully, they will begin to see Israel as a safe country to visit,” says Salansky. “Then the rest of the tourists will follow.”
But it’s going to be a slow — and regulated — recovery, Efrati predicts, with an eye to limiting crowds, including how many will be allowed on a bus and at parks and other sites. “It’s probably going to take years to get back to where we were a year ago,” she laments. Stark agrees, recalling the nearly four years needed to fully jump-start tourism after the Second Intifada. His prediction: Even under optimal circumstances (assuming the skies are open to travel and quarantine and related rules are relaxed), “it’s going to take another year or more just to recreate the infrastructure needed for a recovery.” To keep the dream alive in the interim, the tourism ministry is sending out video tours and presenting long-distant programs to communities across the Diaspora (see list below for some you can enjoy at home without social distancing). “They’re not a substitute for the real thing but something to whet the appetite, to keep Israel top-of-mind for everyone looking forward to the day when they can come back.” And, she adds, “I’m an optimist, so when I see the national parks reopening soon, the restaurants, and hopefully, the hotels, I believe it’s only a matter of time.” Tunitsky-Bitton is looking forward to that day. “Not only because of the limitless number of places to see and things to do there,” she explains, “but because, unlike any other vacation, each time we go, it builds Jewish identity for all of us and an understanding of our people’s history. It’s so much more than sightseeing—being in Israel gives a sense of belonging.” Note: This is an excerpt of an article that originally appears at jns.org.
PET ADVICE FROM DR. GARY BY MIMI POLLACK
he pandemic has changed many people’s daily routines. More folks have been spending time at home and because of this, pet adoptions have increased. What better time to adopt a pet than while spending so much time at home! However, there have also been a lot of first time pet owners who need some guidance. Fortunately, Dr. Gary Weitzman’s new book, The Pet Lover’s Guide, has just been published by National Geographic. Weitzman is the president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and he is also a knowledgeable veterinarian. This convenient book is actually a compilation of his previous books, How to Speak Dog and How to Speak Catt as well as the Complete Guide to Pet Health, Behavior and Happiness. The book provides useful advice. For example, my five-year-old rescue poodle suffers from separation anxiety. The description in the book of this condition could be my dog. These include hyperattachment, departure cue anxiety or getting upset when you leave, and excessive greeting. Separation anxiety is very difficult to overcome, but there are some things the book recommends, such as crate training, and seeing a trained professional. Sometimes nothing works 24
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except learning to manage your life around it like I have done with my dog. I asked Dr. Gary about that and he agreed that if all else fails, life management can be done. I found a doggy day care place where I take my dog and he feels safe until I return. The book also provides useful advice for cat owners. I have two cats and one of them is an excessive scratcher. Like the book recommends, I provide plenty of “allowed scratching places “, so fortunately, he doesn’t go after my sofa. The book is divided into sections. Chapter one focuses on choosing the right pet, such as what to look for in a dog or cat. For example, border collies or Australian shepherds need a lot of activity and will not want to stay home all day, so it is important to consider activity level when looking for a companion. Believe it or not, very large breeds tend to be the laziest. On page 17 of the book, there is a chart that one can look at and determine by the size-from tiny to giant- what the personality and exercise needs will be as well as grooming needs, age, and barking. When adopting a cat, it is important to consider personality. He recommends getting an adult cat if you want to be sure of the personality. Another thing he mentions that I
have found to be true is males tend to be a bit friendlier than females because females are the better hunters. A final important point is to never declaw a cat as it is a very painful procedure and could cause long term harm. Chapter two is devoted to everyday pet health and nutrition. This includes preventative health care, diet and nutrition, the importance of spaying and neutering, why enrichment and exercise are important, the importance of grooming, and preventing fleas, ticks, and other parasites. Chapter three goes over pet behavior and training, and chapter four covers ways of keeping your pets safe and healthy. For example, it is a good idea to get your dog or cat micro chipped. All in all, this handy book is a useful guide for both first time and experienced pet owners. THE SAN DIEGO HUMANE SOCIETY IS A GREAT RESOURCE IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY. THIS YEAR THEIR “VIRTUAL WALK FOR ANIMALS” FUNDRAISER WILL RUN FROM APRIL 11 TO APRIL 17. A TOWN HALL COMMUNITY MEETING WITH DR. GARY WILL BE HELD APRIL 13 AT 5 P.M. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT THE SAN DIEGO HUMANE SOCIETY WEBSITE, WWW.SDHUMANE.ORG.
Comedians Efi Skakovsky and Meni Wakshtock. PHOTO COURTESY/BARDAK.
HAREDI DUO TAKING THE ISRAELI COMEDY WORLD BY STORM BY TZIVIA BLUM, ISRAEL HAYOM VIA JNS.ORG
fi Skakovsky and Meni Wakshtock have managed to shatter stereotypes by proving to secular Israelis that being “haredi” doesn’t mean that you can’t be funny. The duo, known as Bardak (“chaos”), have taken the comedy world by storm, bridging the divide between the two sectors in Israeli society. The two met in Aug. 2020 and realized that their talent for humor would be a hit within their community. Skakovsky and Wakshtock post their skits on social media and cover various topics, ranging from the coronavirus to the anti-government haredi protests. The videos are tailored to the haredi audience; they do not use profanity and focus on men’s perspectives. Nevertheless, they are proving to be incredibly popular among secular Israelis. “Our content is acceptable for everyone across the board,” said Wakshtock in an interview with Israel Hayom. “Some have access to the Internet at home; others have access to it at work and can download it onto a flash drive.” Q: Your videos are unexpected because you grew up watching very little TV.
A: “I took film studies in a religious institution, and I have been directing for seven years,” Wakshtock said. “Our approach is to create a perfect product without slacking and ‘going with the flow.’ Sometimes we contemplate an idea for hours, refine certain parts of the script and change it again and again.” Q: What do rabbis think about your work? A: “The ultra-Orthodox love to laugh, and until now, they didn’t really have a lot of kosher content. I went to consult with a rabbi before [I began this work,] and he encouraged me to pursue it; that it was my mission,” Skakovsky said. Q: Where do you publish your content? A: “On YouTube, where we have 4.7 million views for 25 videos,” said Wakshtock. “Another 20,000-30,000 views on Facebook, about 15,000 on TikTok. Recently we came across a video that someone uploaded to TikTok, a segment from one of our bits about an ultra-Orthodox man disguising himself as a secular person to cross a roadblock [put in place during one of the coronavirus lockdowns.] It was viewed 750,000 times.”
Nevertheless, WhatsApp is more common in the haredi world, added Wakshtock. “We have 40-50 groups where we publish videos every week,” he noted. Q: Do some people criticize your work? A: “Most of the feedback is positive,” said Skakovsky. “The minority that does criticize us provides us with constructive criticism. In one of our first sketches, a character by the name of Eisenbach is seen counting money, and my father said that might be less appropriate at this time.” Q: What are your plans going forward? A: “We are open to suggestions,” Wakshtock said. “One day, we might make a movie or a TV series, the kind that haredi people will enjoy, too. Secular people watch our videos, as well. Perhaps they don’t get all the nuances, but they say they like seeing what the real Haredi world is like.”
MAKING ROOM FOR THE BROKEN HEART BY SHAYNA KAUFMAN
ast Spring, when my dad was in seemingly full health for an 89-yearold, I wrote an article for L’chaim Magazine entitled Shiva: A Profoundly Mindful Judaic Ritual. I recounted the depth, sorrow, beauty and profound mindfulness of mourning my mom’s passing two years prior. Weeks after I submitted the article, my dad was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. The article was published in June, three weeks before he passed away. I remember my brother Eddie quietly reading the article aloud to me, my sister-in-law Blayne and my nephew Ben as we sat around the kitchen table of our childhood home. Our dad was asleep in his recliner in a nearby room. When Eddie finished reading, we were speechless and teary-eyed. We knew another Shiva was around the corner. And we knew, with Covid, Shiva would look and feel very different this go-round. My dad’s funeral was aired on zoom with over 100 people in attendance. Shiva was limited to our large immediate family with the looming awareness that even this was medically risky. We had a few subsequent 26
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shiva zooms with friends and relatives. Though we appreciated the love and support, seeing names and faces on a screen could not replace hugs or the palpable shared grief of a room full of mourners. I did my concluding Shiva walk with my husband sans a Rabbi, after saying Kaddish on Zoom. Covid also changed my subsequent mourning. Gone was the opportunity to grieve in the quiet and stillness of my synagogue and meditation center. Gone was the presence of others to bear witness to and hold my grief. And though zoom opportunities were plentiful, gone was the in-person intimacy. By early fall, with Covid not relenting, I realized that I needed to create a dedicated time and space to fully mourn. I decided to meditate in the early morning, when the house is quiet and the sun rising. Being awake and still during the sunrise proved to be as beautiful and powerful as any sanctuary. I resumed hiking my “sacred” Cowles Mtn. in times of sorrow knowing that my friends could safely support me and the earth could hold my grief. And I participate in virtual
services and retreats, for longer opportunities of presence. During one retreat involving movement, I recalled dancing with my father at my wedding as he cried. I realized his tears were his farewell to me. I danced and cried with him alone in that quiet room, this time with me bidding him farewell. It was incredibly healing. Every single one of us has so much to grieve right now. Even with vaccinations abounding, there has been an inordinate amount of loss, disruption, and fatigue. Though some mechanism for grieving are not available, you may be surprised at what you can create in the sanctity of your home or in nature. You just have to carve out time and create a sacred space. May we all make time to feel and heal and tend to what we lost and, in doing so, continue to move forward with grace. SHAYNA KAUFMANN, PH.D. IS A PSYCHOLOGIST AND LONG-TERM MEDITATION PRACTITIONER. HER SPECIALTIES INCLUDE WEBINARS, WORKSHOPS AND MEDITATION INSTRUCTION TO WOMEN IN MIDLIFE.
THE CURRENT JEWISH AFFORDABLE HOUSING CRISIS address this growing need for housing in our community.
Emergency housing assistance is one of the most frequently requested areas of help from the Kindness Initiative. “For the last few weeks I have been living in an neighbor’s garage and looking for a place I can afford on the $850 I receive a month. I will be homeless tomorrow. Please help me.” “I need help. My landlord is selling our home, and we have to move out in 30 days, but I can’t find anything I can afford for me and my two kids.” “My husband lost his business. They foreclosed on our home and now we can’t make the rental payments on the new place…” These are just a few of the desperate voicemails and service requests received by the Kindness Initiative in recent weeks. Is poverty an issue in our Jewish community? Yes, and it’s significant. PreCovid, roughly 20% of San Diego’s Jewish community was living near or below the poverty-level, and more than a year into the pandemic, that number of local families touched by income and housing insecurity has only increased. Both the cost and the availability of housing, as well as lack of income and credit-standing are limiting factors for many families in our community, where the median monthly rent is more than $2,200 for an 800 square foot unit. Complicating the matter further, most more affordable housing options are further away from the services and resources a household relies on, requiring difficult decisions about
continued access to a child’s school, or proximity to a synagogue, or healthcare facility. At present, there is a lack of affordable housing throughout San Diego, and in turn, for many people in our Jewish community. Those who are eligible for governmentfunded housing programs far outnumber available units, and waitlists can take years. Without an effective housing safety-net, our community faces a housing crisis, and we cannot wait while policy-makers continue to debate about how to increase the number of affordable units. In San Diego’s Jewish community, we need to take matters into our own hands, and develop a community-based solution to address it. The Kindness Initiative is working to assist our Members who are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. For most, they fall into the category of “functional homelessness,” where they are forced to rely on temporary living space in hotels, in their cars, or if they’re lucky, doubling up in the homes of friends or family members. But these are not long-term solutions, nor do they meet the standard of dignity to which the Kindness Initiative aspires: no Jewish person should lack a roof over their heads or worry where their next meal is coming from. Rooted in the Talmudic obligation that “All Jews are responsible, one for another,” the Kindness Initiative needs your help to
WHAT CAN YOU DO? There are a number of ways you can support our work and your fellow Jews. 1. Are you or someone you know looking for a roommate or flat-mate to share expenses? We may have a qualified Member who will fit your needs, and you’d both be helping each other. 2. Do you have a rental unit or a “granny flat” that you could offer at a below-market rent to qualified Kindness Initiative Members for 3-12 months? We can work with you to craft an appropriate lease and ensure payment, as well as provide a tax deduction. 3. Can you support the KINDNESS RENT-RELIEF FUND, used to off-set rental costs for up to a year, as people get back on their feet and regain self-sufficiency? Even $100 per month can make a huge difference in the life of a local Jewish household. These are emergency short-term solutions, which need to be addressed now, but we are also working towards longer-term solutions. The Kindness Initiative is looking for partners to develop permanent, affordable housing options for Jews in our community. These opportunities range from the purchase of a multi-unit rental property to accommodate a variety of Members, to the acquisition of a lot which could accommodate several “tiny houses” in a desired neighborhood, and a variety of other concepts. If you want to be part of this community-based solution, to ensure affordable housing for all Jews in San Diego, we’d love to work with you. THE KINDNESS INITIATIVE IS A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION WITH A MISSION TO ALLEVIATE POVERTY IN JEWISH SAN DIEGO. ALL FUNDING STAYS LOCAL TO SUPPORT STRUGGLING INDIVIDUALS AND HOUSEHOLDS. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE KINDNESS INITIATIVE, OR TO SUPPORT OUR WORK, VISIT WWW. KINDNESSSD.ORG . WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM
FAMILY | BY KYLIE ORA LOBELL
mom.com My life as a Jew(ishMom) by choice
y daughter is the only blonde-haired, fair-skinned child in her daycare at the local Sephardic synagogue. She got her blonde hair and pale skin from me. Though we look different than other Jews in our Orthodox community, we practice in the same way. Judaism is in our hearts and souls. I converted to Judaism in 2015 with an Orthodox beit din after a five-year process. I started my journey at a local Chabad house with my then-boyfriend/now-husband, Daniel. He was off the derech and dating non-Jewish girls, and I’d mostly dated Jewish boys. Growing up, most of my friends were Jewish, too. We went to Chabad for a free Friday night dinner because we were so broke, but I came out of the experience feeling uplifted and wanted to keep going back. Though Daniel wasn’t initially interested in becoming observant again, he eventually changed his mind once he saw how dedicated I was. Now, we want nothing more than for our 15-month-old daughter, Tzofia Chana, to have a positive Jewish experience so she still wants to be observant as an adult. It’s not always easy to be a convert and a mother. Aside from looking unlike the other parents in our community, there are cultural differences. I don’t understand much Hebrew, so when I’m around Israelis or people who speak it, I feel lost. When I would go to weddings (pre-COVID) and the DJ would play Israeli tunes and everyone was singing along, I certainly felt like an outsider. Unhappy Orthodox Jews as well as Holocaust survivors have pressed me as 28
L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE • APRIL 2021
to why I’d want to convert when it’s just so hard to be Jewish. I tell them, “It’s not a choice. It’s in my soul.” But these situations are few and far between. Overall, the Jewish community has been the extended family I always needed. My husband, our daughter, and I live 3,000 miles from our families, which is difficult. But our community has stepped in and taken care of us in unimaginable ways. Who knew that when I gave birth, someone would bring us dinner every single night for a month? Or that when we traveled, a sweet woman would offer us her credit card points so we could stay in a nice hotel? Or that when we needed assistance with our businesses, our rabbis were fully supportive, helping us out in any way they could? There were also sheva brachot and baby showers our friends threw for us, along with countless Shabbat invites. Being a mom and wife and Jewish are the biggest blessings in my life. They have their challenges, but everything that’s worth it is hard work. And even though I, and my daughter, may stick out, I’ve learned that that’s a good thing. I hope we can inspire others to love their Judaism as much as we do. KYLIE ORA LOBELL IS THE AUTHOR OF JEWISH JUST LIKE YOU, A BOOK FOR KIDS IN WHICH SHE EXPLAINS HER CONVERSION PROCESS TO HER FUTURE CHILDREN. AS THE WIFE OF A CONVERT, I LOVED THIS BOOK AND RECOMMEND IT HIGHLY!
BY STEPHANIE LEWIS | HUMOR
& mishagoss The doctor is in! But, I'm out... of my mind with worry!
hen I first heard the phrase “No Worries!” I knew whoever thought it up was definitely not Jewish. Because Jewish people have lots of worries — especially about their health. And if by chance they never learned how to worry, I offer instruction in a special course — “Intro to Neurotic Apprehension 101.” As the local Executive Worrier-In-Chief expert, the internet has not been my friend. I realized this when they invented Web MD. The name was a subtle hint. “Web.” Who has webbed feet? Ducks do! And what do ducks say? “Quack!” Translation: Stay off Web MD, Stephanie! But this does not deter me from typing my latest symptom, “Sensation of thumbtacks sticking into my arms” into a different medical site and obtaining the diagnosis from hell. Four awful diagnoses, actually. One relates to my brain, one to my heart, another to my lungs, and a final one to my stomach. Notice that none of the diseases have anything even remotely to do with my arms. And all are deemed extremely fatal. Naturally. Having gotten Bs in my deductive logic classes in college, I know it’s improbable I am afflicted with ALL FOUR of these maladies, which gives me a bit of comfort. Next, I do what I always do at 2:00 am when I need
assistance with matters like these. I log onto a local hospital patient support group and post a message about my situation on their board. I describe my symptom in great detail and ask if someone out there has experienced something similar, but everything turned out to be okay? I stare at the screen for hours, awaiting a reassuring response. And then it dawns on me: the reason nobody can answer my question. Everyone who had thumbtack sensations in their arms has already passed away from it. Should I write my obituary, my will, or my eulogy first? As this question plagues me, my boyfriend convinces me to go to an actual Urgent Care facility for “peace of mind.” They always call it that when you’re resistant to people drawing your blood and using it to run tests. “Just go for the peace of mind!” they’ll coax. It takes me a while to get an appointment because word of mouth of what kind of patient I am travels fast. Finally, I book with a brand-new doctor and fill out his form in the waiting room as several people stare at me rubbing my tingling arms. Under “Reason for today’s visit” I write, “Look at me! Isn’t it obvious? I just need the doctor to confirm how much time I have left.” And next to “Weight” I put down, “Who cares at this point? Just order me a size 6 burial gown.” (Okay, okay so I’m banking
on the fact that loss of appetite kicks in with this particular disease very soon.) When the form asks for my profession, I print, “Writer.” Then I add, “Pssssst! Hot Tip: Publish this form ASAP! Everyone knows a deceased author’s last work will become enormously valuable.” I’m interrupted by the doctor calling me in. He listens to my heart and pronounces it steady and strong. I ask when he last had his stethoscope calibrated? I describe my symptom (this time likening it to being stabbed with steak knives) and he asks if I’ve ever heard of “Transient Paresthesia?” Petrified, I blurt out, “Oh no! Not that, Dr! I never even ride on trains or busses!” “Not Transit. Transient! Meaning shortlived,” he clarifies. To which I respond, “Good Lord, you mean I’m gonna go even quicker than I thought?” I’ll never forget his final words (which he dictated into his phone) after he explained to me that Transient Paresthesia = Plain Old Limbs Falling Asleep. As for his final words? “Note to self: Instruct receptionist to block this patient’s cell number and email address!” STEPHANIE D. LEWIS WRITES HUMOR FOR HUFFINGTON POST AND AT MEDIUM.COM/@MISSMENOPAUSE
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