September 2014 L'Chaim San Diego

Page 1


september 2014





+ music

made by jews

pg. 26

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1. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish. 2. Soak farfel in water 10 minutes. Drain. 3. Add beaten eggs into bowl of farfel and let stand 10 minutes. Stir in raisins, salt, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Transfer mixture to prepared dish. 4. Bake at 350˚F for 50 to 60 minutes.


Assorted Varieties




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September 2014

Features 12 A Thousand Words International Wedding and Event Photographer Alon David talks about his passion for photography and a new venture on the horizon.

26 Billy Jonas: Recycling His Roots


Musician uses anything he can find, including trash, to create his music

28 The Jewish Men’s Choir San Diego’s own revival of Jewish liturgy


6 To Life


8 The How and Why of Judaism 9 The Life and Times of a Kid from the “Burbs’ 10 The Death of an Icon

High Holidays

Chai Life Headlines

16 Judaism’s Highest Ideal 20 A Cantor’s Perspective


30 A New Torah for Sderot 32 Aging with Ease 31 Society Page

PUBLISHERS Diane Benaroya & Laurie Miller Editor-in-Chief Alanna Maya CREATIVE DIRECTOR Laurie Miller Contributors Yigal Adato, Jeffrey Cohan, Rachel Grossman, Salomon Maya, Rob Greenspan ADVERTISING & SALES Diane Benaroya, Ally Ginzberg


ART DEPARTMENT LISTINGS & CALENDAR: Circulation & Subscriptions

subscribe online: Copyright 2014 L’Chaim San Diego Magazine LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, write to the publisher, addressed “Attention: Permissions Coordinator,” at: ©

Published in San Diego, CA • WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


HELLO l by alannA MAYA

to life. A New Magazine in Town.


elcome to L’CHAIM, a celebration of life, art, culture and all things Jewish in San Diego. Founded by three women well-established in the local Jewish community, L’CHAIM Magazine is a new and fresh publication and digital resource for Southern California and the entire nation. Because our lifestyles and interests are the same as the rest of the world with a few distinct differences, L’CHAIM focuses on what makes life fun. L’CHAIM offers a modern, elegant and unique guide to Jewish San Diego and its culture, from where to find a Passover Seder to what to wear to that next Bar Mitzvah and everything in between. Fresh and innovative, L’CHAIM focuses on being the voice of the San Diego Jewish community. With intriguing features, insightful columns and imaginative design, we’re focused on giving readers what they really want. Within our pages you will find local resources, top dining spots, new synagogues and Rabbis,



fitness and fashion. When we say “To Life!” we mean it. L’CHAIM publishes new content on our website daily. Every month, we’ll arrive in your mailbox with fresh content and our trademark lust for life. Stay on top of our newest articles by subscribing to our Facebook page or our newsletter. BEHIND L’CHAIM: Diane Benaroya is the Publisher and Advertising Director of L’CHAIM. After retiring from 25 years in education, Diane moved from Rehovot, Israel to San Diego and resumed her passion for media. Her interest in Judaism actually sprang out of her love for Jewish music as a child in Sunday school. Laurie Miller is the Publisher and Graphic Designer behind L’CHAIM and has worked in the Jewish community on advertising and design for over a decade after moving from Louisiana to pursue a professional

design career. Laurie recognizes the need for the Jewish community to be heard as one voice with a common place for information. L’Chaim is just that. Alanna Maya is the Editor-in-Chief of L’CHAIM. She has lived in San Diego for 10 years. In that time, she has been involved with numerous Jewish organizations and outlets here. Through the pages of L’CHAIM, she hopes to bring interesting and fun topics to the diverse Jewish community in San Diego. But enough about us! We are here for you. What can we do for you? Talk to us! We’re listening. Write us any time at info@ is published by L’Chaim Magazine, LLC. L’Chaim Magazine is a registered trademark of L’Chaim Magazine, LLC.



SPIRITUAL l by yigal adato


jew mean The How and the Why of Judaism


started to sing at five years old when I pulled up a chair next to our cantor on a Friday night service, and after that Shabbat, I was at the bimah for the next 25 years. In time, I learned most of the melodies and prayers and would step in when the rabbi was out of town or even when he needed a small break. I studied at a Jewish Day School, so the reading came fairly easily and the voice came from my father, who is an amazing singer. For years I sang and sang and enjoyed leading the services until I realized something: I had no idea what I was saying when I was standing and leading the services. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “I have been repeating the same prayers for more than 25 years and I don’t even know what I am saying. Come to think of it, I do not know



the ‘why’ of most of the traditions that have been passed down from my family.” Yes, Jewish Day School taught me many of the laws of Judaism and the steps of the religion, but can true meaning really be taught to a 12-year-old, pre-pubescent boy? Even when I asked my parents or grandparents, they said the same thing I am sure everyone says, “This is the way it has been done in our family for generations.” I was told to “just accept it” and “this is what it means to be Jewish,” but the truth is that it just made me question whether these laws and traditions were just old fashioned. I was tired of just doing without explanation or just believing because I was told to; but then again, I had done nothing all these years to learn the true meaning and find the answers that I was looking for on my

own. With so much technology, maybe I had gotten lazy and it was just easier to leave it by the bedside. (Plus, not many of my friends are sharing posts about why being Jewish is cool, or why Shavuot is important.) I see my generation and those younger than me begin to really question their faith, specifically as it relates to the way traditions have been passed down. Although most of us have pride in being Jewish, we don’t really know much of the why or the how of it. Some of us blame our families, our communities and even our rabbis, but I believe this is just an easy way out. It is easy to not ask questions about where we are from or why we have been around for so many years. Although sometimes I agree with it myself, I realized that even though we may question our faith, we go around looking for something to believe in. We take yoga classes in Sanskrit, we listen to webinars of meditation by Deepak Chopra and we even look to gurus for answers. What if we took the same opportunity and instead of searching for answers in other people’s traditions, looked to our own rich history and teachings? We might find that maybe our sages weren’t just talking nonsense. So I pose this challenge to you today. Ask questions, read a little bit more and seek those answers where you can. I promise you that feeling in your heart—that deeply ingrained identity of “Jewish”—will grow because of it. B’Shalom.

by rob greenspan l REFLECTION

bottom five Rural Adjacent


he life and times of a kid from the ‘burbs.

We were the 2nd house from the corner and across that street was a farm. Cows were huge and I was afraid of them. I never went tipping and I’m still not sure it’s a real thing. I wouldn’t have known what rural meant; I couldn’t spell it and probably couldn’t pronounce it. But to most of the Twin Cities my neighborhood was out in the boonies. Brooklyn Park in the ’60s was a good place to be a little kid. You could play outside all day and mom never worried. “Sexual predator” was not part of our collective vocabulary. If we went out at night we’d lock the front door, but not the back. If it

was light out we didn’t bother with the front either. I remember gas as low as 19 cents a gallon, and nobody thought about what mileage you got. A Coke at Snyder’s drugstore was 15 cents and came out of a fountain. I guess we were middle class, whatever that meant. Mom and Dad paid $13,500 for our house a couple years before I was born. My brother was around 2 and I think my sister had also shown up. In those days all the moms were home and mine didn’t even drive. Later, she got her license at age 62 and that was a big deal. Dad was still against it. He’d also been against my sister working until she was 18. Of course I just thought she was lazy.

Dad bought a new car every few years but it was always the cheapest full size Chevy. And he always paid cash. I didn’t grasp the concept back then, and don’t know how hard it must have been to save up that much. Lucky for everyone, brand names hadn’t been invented yet and stuff only cost what it ought to. Dad worked for the post office for 36 years. I remember around age 12 asking if he liked his job. He was honest and said no. That might have been the first moment reality hit me: people had to do stuff they didn’t want to. Later, when I also worked at the post offce in my 20’s, I realized how much he’d sacrificed for us. He was never “my hero” but I’m glad I learned to admire him. In 1977 I got my license on my 16th birthday. Maybe a year later my brother joined the Army and the old Biscayne became my car. It was huge, what we called a land yacht. But it was a 2 door post, kind of rare, only because it was so cheap. I loved that thing even though I didn’t treat it right and turned it into a field beater. I guess everyone wishes they had their 1st car back; maybe more than the first girlfriend. There were good times but the better ones were with the people that really mattered. Now, I’m trying to tell a few jokes and do some writing. Follow my journey at



random rants l by SALOMON MAYA


comic relief Death of an Icon


y first joke as a stand-up comedian in Los Angeles was about Jews and Germans. The year was 2006 and I was making my debut at the world famous Comedy Store on Sunset Boulevard. I was 26 years old and after writing down tons of material on 3x5 cards and practicing endlessly in front of my mirror the first thing I uttered was an ad-lib joke about World War II. Instead of laughter I was met with groans. I flashed back to the early ’90s and what made me laugh then, and all I could think about was one man: Robin Wiliams. I remember when I was hooked. I was 12, and it was the debut of Comic Relief V hosted by Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg and Williams. A comedic charity benefiting the homeless, it was the who’s who of comedy genius. Founded in 1986, to date, the charity has raised more than $50 million to aid the nation’s homeless population. But even with comic heavyweights like Crystal, Goldberg and a young and raw Jim Carrey, the star was always Robin Williams. His off the wall humor and light-speed wit had audiences in stitches, and I was mesmerized. Every Saturday growing up, I would wait for my parents to leave for dinner so that I could run up to their room, turn on the illegal cable box they had and watch Robin do his thing. At the time, I was an extremely introverted kid, but when the lights were off and nobody was home, I would pick up a hairbrush and pretend I was a stand-up comedian. There was no laughter after those jokes, only the endless chirps of crickets 10


covering the Chula Vista landscape. But I was funny. I knew it. Fourteen years later, I was on stage after that horrible first joke. I took a breath, paused and thought about Robin and what he would do if he bombed with his first joke as I had just done. He’d probably make a face, put his hand to his forehead and give the best Yiddish voice possible. So that’s exactly what I did, and it worked. For the rest of the set, I made fun of myself, talked about being a Mexican Jew and what it was like growing up in pseudo-Orthodox home. I didn’t kill, I’ll even say I wasn’t all that good. But I got a couple chuckles, and maybe a legitimate laugh here and there. And in some way, Robin Williams was right there with me, just as he was in 1992 helping me find who I was. I’ll be honest, I’ve been pretty lucky when it comes to death and everyone in my immediate family is still here. But last month, when I first heard of the death of my childhood hero, it felt just like losing a parent. I felt empty inside. I wanted to cry. So I did, for a man I never personally knew. I didn’t cry when my Zeide passed or my other grandparents died, and for that reason many in my family have always said I was too cold-hearted. But not having Robin Williams on this earth made me cry. It wasn’t because there wouldn’t be a Mrs. Doubtfire II or another appearance on a late night show. It was because somewhere in the world there lives another young boy or girl searching for their place on this planet. And

And in some way, Robin Williams was right there with me, just as he was in 1992 helping me find who I was. like Robin did for me in 1992, he probably would’ve helped this boy or girl come out of their shell. I was sad that that little boy or girl would not get the opportunity to see this comic genius at play. I’m sad that he has left such a gaping hole, not only in the lives of his family, but the lives of each and every one of us. We live in a world where everything can be duplicated. There will be another me, and more than likely there will be another you. But just as the stars are above us and the sun shines brightly on this little rock of ours called Earth, there will never be another Robin Williams.

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alon david PHOTOGRAPHY

l’chaim l by alanna MAYA






International Wedding and Event Photographer Alon David


hen it comes to photography, the pictures generally speak for themselves. Once in a while, though, a photograph will leave you speechless—that’s true for San Diego-based Alon David’s work, and here’s why. Alon was born in Tel Aviv, Israel and moved to the U.S. in 1998. For the next 7 years he worked as the lead designer for a large design studio in San Diego. Frustrated with the quality of photographs he saw in that position, he first picked up a camera to complete an extensive portfolio. It was through this process that Alon honed his skills behind the lens, and what started as a hobby quickly became a creative obsession after the birth of his son in 2002. Since then, he has traveled all over the world to photograph weddings and events. From San Diego to Tel Aviv, Rome, Madrid and Paris, Alon David Photography knows no boundaries. Today, Alon is known as one of San Diego’s top wedding photographers and his business is growing daily. Recently, he launched a national collective of vendors for Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations. The network currently consists of vendors in 10 states and is growing daily with photographers, venues, caterers and DJs— to name a few—that have been thoroughly

vetted in their knowledge and expertise on these types of celebrations. We sat down with Alon to discuss his work. Here are the highlights. LCHAIM: How long have you been photographing weddings and events? ALON DAVID: I have been a professional wedding photographer for 6 years. I have been shooting since 2002.

Services {NPS}. Based on my experience, talent, integrity, professionalism and peer references and I am proud to be a part of Wedding & Portrait Photographers International {WPPI}. Best of Wedding Photography {BOWP} BOWP is a premier, invitation-only directory of top wedding photographers

LCHAIM: What got you started? ALON DAVID: I started my business with architecture photography back in 2002 when my son was born and slowly shifted into wedding, corporate and event photography. I also photographed over 5,000 family and kid sessions up until today.

LCHAIM: What sets you apart from other wedding/event photographers? ALON DAVID: What makes me successful and stand out from the rest is I like to take risks and think outside the box when capturing images. I don’t mind getting dirty or wet, if that means I will get a good image. I love to use creative lighting and shoot in low light. I always try to take the clients visions or ideas and turn them into a reality.

LCHAIM: What type of equipment do you use and what is your favorite environment to work in? ALON DAVID: I use Nikon cameras. Nikon D4 Nikon D800 and Nikon D700 Plus we use prime lenses. As well as Nikon 28-70mm 2.8 Nikon 70-200mm 2.8 Nikon 50mm 1.4 and nikon 85mm 1.8. In addition I am also an active member of Nikon Professional

LCHAIM: What advice would you give a bride who is looking for a wedding photographer? ALON DAVID: Make sure you like what you see first and most importantly, make sure you connect with the photographer. Look for versatility in their photography; be certain they are able to make a simple location look extraordinary through their use of light, composition, and the way they WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM



Check it out

can help bring out your emotion. Also, ask for references and read reviews about the photographer. Anyone can have a good set of photos, but it is important that they are consistent throughout their work. Do not be afraid to ask to see some albums with complete weddings. LCHAIM: Tell me about the idea behind Best of Bar Mitzvah: ALON DAVID: Best of Bar Mitzvah got started by Alon David and Maya David. The idea behind it came when we were referring our clients to quality vendors for their Bar and Bat Mitzvah events. When we looked around for vendors, we were unable to find quality and experienced vendors in one location. Therefore, this lead to the creation of Best of Bar Mitzvah. At the beginning Best of Bar Mitzvah was only in San Diego however it is now serving over 10 states in the country and continues to grow.



LCHAIM: Who is involved with Best of Bar Mitzvah? ALON DAVID: Best of Bar Mitzvah qualifies the vendors before accepting the membership and only accepts the top vendors in their category. The vendors have already been established for several years, and have done over 25 weddings or Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs in the past. Make sure to check our blog: to see more information about new ideas and vendors for your Bar Mitzvah or Bat Mitzvah event. LCHAIM: What sets best of bar mitzvah vendors apart from everyone else? ALON DAVID: When selecting vendors for Best of Bar Mitzvah we wanted to make sure that the vendors are the best in the wedding industry. Which is a lot more intense than doing a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Most vendors are not familiar with Bar/ Bat Mitzvahs or have never done them before. When selecting the vendors on

Best of Bar Mitzvah we wanted to make sure that the vendors that are featured are both experienced in weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and corporate events to bring Best of Bar Mitzvah clients the best of both worlds. LCHAIM: What has been your biggest accomplishment within your company? ALON DAVID: My biggest accomplishment has been receiving numerous awards such as, ‘Best of Wedding Photography 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014’, ‘Best Wedding Photographer and Top 5 on the San Diego A List 2011, 2012, 2013’, ‘Wedding Wire 2012, 2013, 2014’, and ‘My Wedding 2013’. In addition I was also invited to be part of Best of Wedding Photography (BOW), International Society of Professional Wedding Photographers (ISPWP), and Fearless Photographers. To learn more about Alon or to inquire about photography for your next event, visit

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Go Veg!



This Rosh Hashanah, Aspire to Judaism’s Highest Ideals

by jeffrey cohan l NEW YEAR, NEW YOU


divinity student from a Presbyterian seminary approached me recently and made a surprising comment. “I’m so impressed,” he said, “with the emphasis that Judaism places on treating animals with compassion.” I didn’t know whether to kvell or to cry. Kvell, because all levels of Jewish texts, from the Torah on down, express incredible sensitivity for the welfare of animals. The divinity student knew something about Judaism—on paper. And cry, because concern for animals is almost totally absent from Jewish communal discourse, while literally billions of farm animals are suffering in abysmal conditions. We have a Torah that repeatedly and clearly establishes the ideal of veganism, and that calls upon us to show great concern for the comfort and well-being of animals, and yet most Jews continue to blithely consume meat, dairy and eggs as if the welfare of animals is irrelevant. I say most Jews, by no means all Jews. In fact, a disproportionate number of rabbis, including some who are very prominent, have adopted vegetarian or vegan diets. Their ranks include Lord Jonathan Sacks, who recently retired as the chief rabbi of Great Britain; and Rabbi David Wolpe, the spiritual leader of Los Angeles’ Sinai Temple, one of the flagship Conservative congregations. These rabbis understand that when it comes to something as fundamental as how we eat, God made his intentions known in no uncertain terms. The very first time he speaks to Adam and Eve, he tells them in Genesis 1:29 that plant-based foods are theirs to eat—period. Just in case we didn’t get the message the first time around, God sustained the Israelites on a vegan diet—manna—to prepare our ancestors for the Revelation. And just in case we didn’t deign to read the Torah at all, God took it a step further by designing our bodies to resemble the herbivores of the animal kingdom, rather than the carnivores. Look at your fingernails. Do they look anything like the flesh-ripping claws of a carnivore? You might not know this about your own saliva, but it contains digestive enzymes for processing carbohydrates,

like fruits and vegetables. Carnivores in the animal world don’t have those same enzymes, but herbivores do. The length of our intestines is seven to 13 times the length of our torso, depending on the individual. But the intestines of bears, tigers and other carnivores are much shorter, only three to six times the length of their torsos, so that animal flesh will pass quickly through their bodies. As compelling, and obvious, as our physical similarity to herbivores is, ethical considerations should still be the first and foremost consideration for Jews. And the vegan ideal speaks to the very essence—the raison d’etre—of Judaism. Why did God give us the Torah if not to bring His attributes of mercy, compassion and morality into what was—and in many ways remains—a brutal, savage world? For thousands of years, the strong have heartlessly exploited and oppressed the weak. The Torah arrived to save the world from humanity itself. Jews should be especially sensitive to this dynamic, for reasons of both theology and history. Have we not been exploited and oppressed over the millennia? So what do we do when we encounter animals, sentient beings who are at our mercy, whose care God entrusted to us? What do we do when we’re in the position of strength? Unfortunately, we cram chickens into cages so small they can’t lift a wing, we brand and often castrate cows without pain relief, we send living male chicks into grinders and steal newborn calves from nursing cows. Then, after subjecting them to lives of abject misery, we slit their throats. And for what reason? Because we like how they taste? Because it’s the conventional thing to do? Because non-Jews are doing it too? As Jews, we should be expanding our circle of compassion, not narrowing it. We should be setting an example, not following the lead of a decadent society. Judaism is a countercultural movement. Precisely because God and our sages recognized the human tendency to oppress the weak, they liberally sprinkled the Torah—writ large—with commandments to treat animals with kindness. Indeed, animals are even to be given a day of rest on the Sabbath.

Modern factory farming—which is where more than 90 percent of kosher meat comes from—makes a mockery of these mitzvot. We should not delude ourselves that the laws of shechita absolve us from complicity in this widespread cruelty. For one thing, the laws of kosher slaughter apply only to slaughter, not to the suffering imposed on the animals before they’re taken to the slaughterhouse. And secondly, it is virtually impossible to strictly apply the laws of shechita in modern factory farms, where the sheer number of animals killed in a single day is often in the hundreds or even thousands. These laws were written in and for an era when a shochet might slaughter one or two animals a day, or week. It seems God anticipated this. Hashem’s wisdom is truly awe-inspiring. God prescribed a vegan diet for us, and as it turns out, a vegan diet is not only better for animals, it’s better for our own health, too. Have you ever known anyone to develop heart disease, diabetes, obesity or cancer from eating blueberries? Or lentils? Or broccoli? Thankfully, as veganism continues to grow in popularity, a whole host of vegan substitutes for meat and dairy products are widely available, even at regular supermarkets. Many of them are as tasty, or tastier, than the original versions, while being much lower in fat and completely free of cholesterol. Great Websites like and have sprung up to help people transition to a plant-based diet. You don’t need to become a vegan overnight. Start with one meal a day and take it from there. Or try a vegetarian diet first, then move toward abstaining from all animal products. In the coming year, we all have an opportunity to bring Jewish values into our daily lives by eating in a way that aligns with the ideals and compassion of our Torah. Maybe someday soon I can look the theological student in the eye and just kvell. Jeffrey Cohan is the Executive Director of Jewish Vegetarians of North America. Learn more at



NEW YEAR, NEW YOU l By rachel grossman

Vegan dessert Vegan Chocolate

Babka Muffins You won’t believe they are completely vegan!

A great treat for Rosh Hashanah or ALL year round!

Prep time: 1 hour Cooking time: 3 hours Total time: 4 hours


CREDIT: rachel grossman

1⁄4 cup warm water 1 package active dry yeast 1⁄3 cup sugar 3 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour 1 teaspoon kosher salt 3⁄4 cups almond milk 2 small potatoes (mashed) 4 tablespoons margarine 12 ounces chocolate chips (finely chopped in food processor, for filling ) 1 teaspoon cinnamon (for filling ) 1⁄3 cup sugar (for filling ) 4 tablespoons margarine (for filing) 1 tablespoon garam masala



Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners and spray the muffin papers with nonstick spray. Set aside. Meanwhile, whisk the warm water and yeast together in a bowl. Measure out the sugar and sprinkle a pinch of it into the water. Allow the yeast to proof for five minutes.


Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt together, and in another bowl mix the almond milk and mashed potatoes together (until there are no lumps). Add all the sugar, flour mixture, and milk mixture to the yeast and mix with a hand mixer until it pulls together. Turn the mixer speed up a notch and add the margarine a tablespoon at a time. Mix for 10 minutes. It’s true that the dough looks like a mess, but you know — whatever, have fun with it! Dump it on the counter and knead it into submission 18



Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 2.5 hours. While the dough is rising make the chocolate filling by combining all the chocolate filling ingredients and kneading them together with your hands until the margarine is completely incorporated.


Scrape dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface. Press the air bubbles out and use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll the dough out into a 16″x12″ rectangle. Spread evenly with the chocolate filling. Then cut the dough in half the long way and roll each rectangle up the long way. Cut each roll into twelve equal

pieces and place each piece in a prepared muffin cup. Sprinkle garam masala on the top of each muffin. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes or so. Preheat the oven to 350º during this final rise. Bake muffins for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.


Garam masala is a blend of spices typically associated with Indian cuisine. Earth Balance spread can be used in place of margarine.
Cooking time includes time for yeast to rise. Yields 20 muffins.

At 75 years young, Beth Jacob Congregation shows no signs of slowing down. Conveniently located in central San Diego, it’s affectionately referred to as the “Orthodox shul for everyone.” Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky, who’s been carrying the mantle of Torah leadership at this “heimish” institution for 18 years says, “I love meeting new people. No matter what your Jewish background, there’s a place for you at Beth Jacob.” Beth Jacob’s newest effort is Monday night “Partners in Torah;” offering Jewish adults of all backgrounds a free learning opportunity to discover Judaism – its culture, history, and traditions – at their pace. Led by Rabbinical Assistant Pinny Roth, this exciting program for Jewish men and women with an interest in acquiring specific skills or who simply want to build on their Jewish knowledge-base, are matched, one-to-one, with a carefully selected personal Torah “mentor” for up to an hour a week. For more information about Beth Jacob’s many programs and services:, 619-287-9890 or 4855 College Avenue • 92115 WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


FOR MEANINgful high holidays prayer,

preparation is kEY A Cantor’s Perspective

LOS ANGELES—The holiest days on the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are largely spent in synagogue. Yet prayer isn’t usually the focus when Jews prepare for the High Holidays, observes Cantor Arik Wollheim. “Hopefully people go through this process of repentance, and they give charity, but what about prayer?” Wollheim says. “People neglect that. How many people open the prayer book before Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and go over the davening?” The answer, Wollheim says, is almost no one. But he is looking to change that. At Congregation Beth Jacob in Beverly Hills, Calif., in his first year as cantor, Wollheim 20 L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE

organized a sing-along preparation event in advance of the High Holidays, in addition to posting melodies on the synagogue’s website. During last year’s High Holidays at Beth Jacob, an Orthodox synagogue, Wollheim was accompanied by the Maccabeats, the popular Jewish a cappella group that burst onto the scene in 2010 with their hit Hanukkah song “Candlelight.” A student of famed cantor Yitzchak Eshel, Wollheim—formerly the cantor at Congregation Agudath Sholom of Stamford, Conn., retired U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman’s synagogue—gave his perspective on the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.

by jacob kamaras l l rosh hashanah

Jacob Kamaras: What are the challenges of trying to engage a congregation in High Holidays services? Cantor Arik Wollheim: For the holidays, together with the regulars—the people who come every week, or several times a month—in every congregation you also have a number of people that come only for the High Holidays. And they are a little bit disconnected with what’s going on throughout the year in the synagogue. The challenge is [figuring out] how to create a service that makes everybody happy. My approach is to create a salad of styles and selections. And by that I mean, for instance, I use classical cantorial music, what I call “nice oldies” that congregations sing, that everybody knows. I use Israeli songs. The most recent melodies that religious music and the yeshiva world provide. And I use every form of Jewish music, almost. My challenge is: What’s the balance between all those different components? Especially here in America, and also in Israel, not everybody understands all the text. Thank God we have prayer books with an English translation, but it’s not the same [as understanding the Hebrew], and people sometimes don’t bother to look at the translations. It’s not that they don’t want to, but you’re engaged already in the recitation of the prayer, you don’t have time to also look [at the translation]. For the High Holidays liturgy, we have a lot of poems, and many of them were written during the Middle Ages. It’s very poetic, high language that is not that easy to understand. How do I create that inspiration? What can I do to make people engaged in the service, even though it’s very difficult? It’s a long day, they’ve been standing for hours, they’re fasting, they’re tired, and they don’t understand the text, in many cases. JK: How does a cantor prepare for the High Holidays? AW: I’m going through a tremendous amount of research in order to create that “salad” that I spoke about. You have to understand what your objectives are. Do I want to do congregation singing? How much congregation singing do I want to do? What is the mood that

I’m trying to create? There’s a connection between one [objective] and the other. It’s like one symphony. You have a theme, and a theme, and a theme, and then the fillers in between, and the question is: What do you do with those fillers? How are they going to work together? Preparation is huge. Every year we’re different. I’m not the same person I was last year. This is the day of judgment. I think every cantor feels a huge responsibility on those days, because we’re praying not only on our behalf, we’re praying on behalf of the entire congregation. It’s a tremendous responsibility, and you go through the text, and you try to figure out: How does it resonate with you? What is the meaning of the text? How can you make it relevant to you, to your life, to the lives of your congregants? JK: Which prayers do you see as the highlights of the High Holidays service? AW: I think without doubt, Unetaneh Tokef is one of the highlights; first of all, because of the text. [It includes] the description of the process that goes on in Heaven. It gives us an idea of how God examines each case, so to say. From a musical perspective, this is your chance as a cantor to really shine, to show what you can do, especially because the text is so moving. This is your moment to try to inspire people, to really get them to try to feel something. Number two, there’s a prayer called the Hineni. It’s the first thing that the cantor says before Mussaf. The cantor is the only one who recites that prayer. And basically it’s a prayer for the cantor, asking, “God, please help me in this task, and don’t judge them, my congregation, because of my sins. If I’m doing it wrong, don’t let if affect them.” It’s really a personal prayer that reminds us cantors that at the end of the day, this is not about how we sing, and the music, and all that kind of stuff. It’s about this tremendous responsibility that we have of pleading on behalf of the congregation. JK: What do you remember about the first time you led a High Holidays service? AW: I was 14. It was a little synagogue in the town where I grew up in Israel, Azor (a

suburb of Tel Aviv). I led the services with my dad. Obviously I was nervous, but I felt comfortable because I started leading services as soon as I was bar mitzvahed, so already I led services for a whole year prior to that. So I felt comfortable leading services, and I knew my dad was next to me. It was a congregation where everybody knew me since I was born, so it felt like [leading the service] amongst your family. It was a very supportive audience. I did that for a couple of years, and that gave me confidence later on, when I started taking on jobs elsewhere. JK: What advice would you give about how to approach High Holidays prayer? AW: The service is very long, we have a lot of text. If I have one recommendation to people for the holidays, it’s don’t take a prayer as something obvious, that we’ve done every year, and that’s it. Take the prayer book, take the machzor, and go over the text. See what it means to you. See what prayers resonate with you. Refresh your memory with some of the tunes. Read the English translation, so you’ll know what you’re saying. I can guarantee that if you do some preparation, you will get much more out of the service, and this is regardless of who is leading it. WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


feature story l by rafael medoff l

exodus to egypt 100 Years Since the Turkish Expulsion of the Jews


his year marks the 100th anniversary of the expulsion of thousands of Jews from Turkish-ruled Palestine to Egypt, in a dramatic reversal of the historic exodus from the Land of the Pharaohs to the Land of Israel. But from that tragic episode in 1914 would emerge a Jewish fighting force that would help liberate the Holy Land from the Turks. Turkey entered World War One in October 22 L’CHAIM SAN DIEGO MAGAZINE

1914, joining Germany in its fight against Russia, England, and France. In Turkey’s eyes, all Russian citizens, including the many Russian-born Jews living in Palestine, were now enemy nationals. Fueled by wartime hysteria and Muslim religious sentiment, the Turkish authorities in the Holy Land turned against the country’s foreign-born Jews. On Dec. 17, the Turkish governor of Jaffa, Beha A-Din, ordered the

mass ex-pulsion of the 6,000 Russian-born Jewish residents of that city. Over the course of the next three months, thousands more Russian-born Jews were ex-pelled from Palestine or fled just ahead of the deportations. By the spring of 1915, more than 11,000 Russian Jewish exiles were living in British-occupied Egypt. Yaakov and Frieda Brodetzky were among the deportees. “My parents were newlyweds

Credit: The World’s Work via Wikimedia Commons

feature story

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Henry Morgenthau, Sr. pictured in Turkish-ruled Palestine. Morgenthau played a critical role in rescuing Palestine Jewry from utter devastation.

when the expulsion was ordered,” Moshe Brodetzky, 88, of Los Angeles, told “They spent their ‘honeymoon’—and the next three years—in exile in Egypt.” With generous support from the Egyptian Jewish community, the exiled family built a new life for itself in the Mafruza and Gabbari refugee camps near Alexandria. “My father earned a living by becoming a teacher in a Talmud Torah that the refugees established for their children,” Brodetzky noted. Meanwhile, back in Turkish Palestine, the rest of the local Jewish community struggled to survive. Some, including two of Frieda’s brothers went into hiding to avoid being inducted into the Turkish army, where anti-Jewish discrimination was rife. Others, such as future Israel prime minister Moshe Shertok (Sharett), sought to ingratiate themselves with the authorities by volunteering to serve in the armed forces. Frieda’s father devised a unique way to elude the Turkish censors and communicate with his exiled daughter. “He would write a message on the inside of a bandage, which would be wrapped around the arm of someone who was traveling from Jerusalem to Egypt,” Moshe Brodetzky explained. “My mother saved those bandages for the rest of her life. When she passed away more than a

half-century later, we found some of them among her treasured possessions.” A number of Palestine’s Jews were forced into Turkish labor brigades, where they paved roads and worked in stone quarries without pay, barely subsisting on meager food rations. Zionist political parties were outlawed and newspapers were shut down. When David Ben-Gurion—who would later become Israel’s first prime minister— protested these measures, he too was deported to Egypt. With thousands of Palestine’s Jewish farmers trapped in Egypt, their crops back home withered on the vine. To make matters worse, wartime naval blockades prevented the importation of many foods. As a result, from 1915-1916, thousands of Jews in Palestine died of starvation or diseases aggravated by the lack of food. Henry Morgenthau, Sr., America’s ambassador to Turkey, played a critical role in rescuing Palestine Jewry from utter devastation. He persuaded President Woodrow Wilson to let U.S. ships bring food and medicine to the Palestine Jewish community, even though that technically meant providing supplies to a country with which the U.S. was at war. By contrast, his son, Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was unsuccessful in his attempt, 25 years later, to convince President Franklin D. Roosevelt to permit food shipments to Jews who were starving in the Warsaw Ghetto and elsewhere in Nazi-occupied Europe. The Roosevelt administration said it could not permit shipping supplies to a country with which the U.S. was at war. In a remarkable historical twist, the Jewish refugee camps in Egypt became the birth-place of a Jewish armed force that would help take back the Land of Israel from the Turks. Advocates of the creation of a modern-day Jewish army found large numbers of eager volunteers among those exiled. These recruiting efforts were spearheaded by Russian Zionist leader Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky, war hero and Zionist pioneer

Yosef Trumpeldor, and a fervent Christian Zionist, the famous British lion-hunter Col. John Henry Patterson. The latter personally signed up the first 500 volunteers in the Gabbari camp. “Even many years later, my father still vividly recalled, and told me about, the stirring speeches that Jabotinsky gave, to inspire the refugees to sign up,” Brodetzky recalled. The British agreed to create a relatively small unit known as the Zion Mule Corps, then expanded it into the Jewish Legion, consisting of five full battalions. It was the first Jewish army in nearly 2,000 years. The legion played an important role in the battles that brought about the liberation of Palestine from the Turks in 1918. Jabotinsky served as a lieutenant in the Jewish Legion. Other legionnaires included David Ben-Gurion; future prime minister Levi Eshkol; Zionist leader Berl Katznelson; and future Jerusalem mayor Gershon Agron. Jewish Legion members took part in the defense of Jerusalem against Arab rioters in 1920. After the British disbanded the legion, some of its veterans joined up with the Jewish underground militias that ultimately fought for the creation of Israel. The Brodetzky family, for its part, in the 1920s lived in Michigan City (Indiana), Chicago, and Brooklyn, where young Moshe became active in Hashomer Hadati, the youth wing of the Mizrachi movement (today known as the Religious Zionists of America). The family returned to British Palestine in 1934, and Moshe later served with the Irgun Zvai Leumi, headed by Menachem Begin, in Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. It was historical irony, twice over: the first generation of Jews exiled to Egypt had helped bring about the liberation of Palestine from the Turks, and the second generation played its own part in freeing the Land of Israel from the British three decades later. Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. For more information, visit WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


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music l by matt robinson l



Billy Jonas makes music with anything he can find


aving started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented, multiinstrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object instruments of creativity. When fans come to Jonas’s concerts, they often find a stage strewn with what at first appears to be a pile of refuse. From oil drums to an empty soda can to five-gallon water bottles, Jonas takes pride in making


treasures out of others’ trash. “I can’t help but smile and get happy when I hear a frying pan played well,” he says, noting his passion for “sounds, forms, and subject matters that are off the beaten track.” But soon after Jonas and The Billy Jonas Band take the stage, the novelty wears off. “I find that the spectacle appeal of these instruments disappears wears off after about 10 minutes,” Jonas says. “Then, people tend to focus on the songs and stories that I’m presenting, which is the heart of what I do. The goal of the songs, and my concerts, is to connect people—to themselves, to others, and to the great beyond.” Jonas also aims to weave a connection to the natural world into his songs and shows. “I think everybody now understands the importance of environmental stewardship

and recycling,” he says. “Instead of singing about that directly, my instruments broadcast that implicitly. This leaves room to address other aspects of tikkun olam (repairing the world), soul-mining, and spiritual spelunking.” Jonas and his band also love to explore the fundamental roots of Jewish music. “We like finding the essence of a song, or a prayer,” he says. “This is often best revealed through the most simple, primal musical elements of voices and drums.” While his musically inclined family encouraged his early explorations of music, Jonas also credits his childhood cantor with inspiring his inspiring path. “I remember going to synagogue during this time and listening to Cantor Abraham Lubin, and being awestruck by the beauty and power of his voice,” Jonas says of the


I can’t help but smile and get “happy when I hear a frying pan played well,” he says, noting his passion for “sounds, forms, and subject matters that are off the beaten track.


Jonas, shown here at separate performances in 2011, travels across the country to bring his music to the masses.

legendary chazzan of Congregation Rodfei Zedek and Anshe Emet Synagogue, both in Chicago, as well as Congregation Beth El of Bethesda, Md. Lubin’s melodies, many of them part of a weekly Hebrew school repertoire, “went to a very deep place” and became “an intimate part” of Jonas’s future music, he says. Jonas also says the structure of Jewish liturgical music had a profound impact on him—so profound that his latest project is a collection of liturgically inspired songs called “Ten Days: Songs for a Jewish Vision Quest,” to be released in the spring of 2015. In addition to songs and musical reinterpretations of prayers like “Modeh Ani” and “Ma’ariv Aravim,” Jonas takes his

turn at Shlomo Carlebach’s “Return Again,” and offers a few originals such as “Holy Man” and the illuminating anthem “Let There Be Light.” As usual, Jonas’s words and music borrow elements from his environs. “I’m inspired by everything, but what excites me most is finding a way to amplify the sacred dimensions of even the most mundane experiences,” he says. Jonas says a further “sacred dimension” is added to the music when a live audience is listening. “With certain participatory songs, as the audience sings along or calls out, they spontaneously become an organism and experience the dissolution of their separateness from each other,” he says. “I love that!” Asked what inspired this particular collection, Jonas goes back to the synagogue—not in Chicago, but in his current home.

“I have enjoyed working with my local synagogue,” says the resident of Asheville, N.C., who participates in and often co-leads prayers at Congregation Beth HaTephila in that city. “In doing that, I began to create my own versions of songs and prayers that felt closer to my heart than some—though not all—of the traditional, more standard versions.” Through working with bar and bat mitzvah students as well as other congregants at Beth HaTephila, Jonas discovered his own passion for prayers that he and others felt were not engaging with as seriously strongly as he felt they could. He describes finding places in services “where there were some missed opportunities for a deeper connection to, or understanding of, a particular moment.” “I’ve been having fun filling in the gaps in prayers as I perceive them,” Jonas says. WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


music l by alanna maya




Preserving Our

Musical Tradition Jewish Men’s Choir

CREDIT: Jewish Men’s Choir

See the Jewish Men’s Choir as part of the San Diego Central Public Library Concert Series! “Historical Judaica”
is on Sunday, Oct. 26; 2:30-3:30 p.m. The concert is free and open to the public.


he Jewish Men’s Choir has been a San Diego institution for more than 10 years. Recently, the group was part of the Lipinsky Family Jewish Arts Fest, where they performed as part of Klezmer master (and San Diego native) Yale Strom’s ticket. The enthusiastic crowd for the evening was treated to Yiddish and Ladino music as guest director Larry Kornit (of B’nai Tikvah) directed. But what makes Jewish choral music different from any other? We asked Ruth Weber, music director and conductor. “I guess [what sets Jewish choral music apart] is the composers themselves,” she says. “A lot of the things that we are trying to preserve are melodies that cantors from the classical and romantic periods wrote and performed in their synagogues at that time that we don’t hear that much any more.” But JMC is not only about performing liturgical music; some of it is very similar to the non-cantorial music of the time. There is Klezmer choral music and ladino choral music and so on; all of which JMC strives to bring to the community in San Diego and beyond. The group’s first album, “Heritage,”

has found a home in Jewish libraries all over the world in the quest to preserve this timeless tradition. The group, also known as KolHakavod (literally meaning “all the respect,” or the Israeli equivalent of “good job!”), has between 28-40 members at any one time attending weekly rehearsals. Group members range in age from high school students to men in their 70s and is looking to expand in the coming months. “We are working on promoting Jewish music to non Jewish groups,” Weber says. “To that end, we have been a part of the San Diego Public Library concert series this year and are also pairing with the SD Interfaith chorus as a featured group.” The importance of a group like JMC in the community is profound; so the span of reach is very important to the group’s mission. Weber says music and art are a reflection of the culture they were created in. By preserving Jewish choral music, she says the group is truly preserving the culture of our ancestors. “If we study the history of Western music

we will learn about the early music going on in the Catholic Church,” she says. “There were Jewish composers writing music which is very similar in nature during this time period, however it was music of the Jewish liturgy and not the Catholic liturgy. Gregorian chants actually developed [and were modeled] after Judaic chants. The Catholic Church was looking for a way to help the congregation remember the text of the mass and so they saw the singing of the text as a way to do this. “Now we celebrate the works of Rossi and Lewandowski as we perform some of the beautiful Jewish choral music that is primarily known only in Jewish music circles; but the SDJMC performs choral arrangements of all types of Jewish music, not only liturgical music. By performing choral arrangements of Yiddish songs, not only are we helping to preserve the Yiddish language, but we are also remembering the culture and traditions of the Jewish people. This is why it is so important to preserve all Jewish music, and not only Jewish Choral music.” To learn more or to inquire about having SDJMC perform at your next event, visit WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


CHAI LIFE l by nachum segal l

A New Torah for Sderot my war story


his summer has been incredibly difficult for our brothers and sisters in Israel. Instead of vacationing with their families or making memories at day camps, most Israeli children have spent the sunny days hiding in bomb shelters and learning more than their fair share about the Iron Dome missile defense system. Instead of jumpstarting their careers or focusing on basic training, thousands of young men and women have found themselves on the front lines of the war in Gaza. It has been a very long and challenging summer, to be sure. But as the war slips into its second stage, Jews around the world are sharing inspiring stories, anecdotes of extreme charity and unprecedented displays of brotherhood that have taken place over the last few weeks. These stories buoy our spirits and help us remember just how fortunate we are to be members of “the Tribe.” Since I spent some time in Israel during the war, I have a few stories of my own, and one in particular stands out above the rest—a life-altering moment that I experienced in the rocket-battered Negev city of Sderot. The story actually begins in January, with a phone call from Yossi Baumol, executive director of the American Friends of Sderot. Yossi explained that he was in dire need of a Torah for an Ethiopian Synagogue in Sderot.



The congregants had been using ritually unfit Torahs until that point, and they were pining for a kosher Torah to call their own. I immediately got on the case. Dr. Joe Rozehzadeh, Simon Jacob, and I decided to dedicate the Torah in memory of Joe’s father, my father, and Simon’s father-in-law. Promptly, a Torah was on its way to Sderot. We decided to hold the Hachnasat Sefer Torah (Torah dedication ceremony) when all three of us could be in Israel together, and chose Friday morning, Aug. 8 (the eve of Shabbat Nachamu) as the date for the ceremony. As the war unfolded, we made a conscious decision to stick to our plan. Not only did we want to see it through, but it dawned on us that a celebration of this kind was more important during a war than at any other time. We were committed to giving our Torah a proper homecoming and standing in solidarity with the citizens of Sderot when they needed us most. On the morning of Aug. 8, Nachum Segal Network general manager Miriam Wallach, Joe, Simon, and I arrived in Sderot with an entourage of family and friends. Though we were overcome with excitement, we were also somewhat nervous because there had been several air-raid sirens that morning. Later, we would realize that while sirens rang out immediately before and after the event, not one sounded while we were actually singing and dancing with the Torah. The first thing we noticed was that the “synagogue” was actually a trailer with a capacity of no more than 30 people. The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride. In addition to genuine excitement about the Hachnasat Sefer Torah, it was clear that they were simply thrilled to have a reason to celebrate outdoors on a sunny day. In a city plagued by aerial terror, moments such as these were not taken for granted. All at once, we began. The small group gathered together, dancing with the Torah at the entrance to the synagogue as we raised

our voices in song. As we danced together in the summer heat, we were overcome with emotion. Who would have guessed that a Sephardic Torah would be dedicated by a group of American Jews to an Ethiopian synagogue in Israel? But at that moment, it made perfect sense. All of the labels melted away and all that was left were Jews, members of a single family, celebrating a shared heritage in their beloved homeland. This point was driven home one last time when we began packing up to head back to Jerusalem. As we turned to bid our hosts farewell, we opted for Hebrew, the only common language between us. Only when we began wishing one another “Shabbat Shalom” did we realize just how fitting it was that our parting words would be in our shared, ancestral tongue. That uplifting and unifying moment, marked with warm smiles and hearty handshakes, is one that I won’t soon forget. As we took our leave, the enormity of what we had experienced overwhelmed me. We had witnessed the ingathering of the exiles firsthand. We had established meaningful connections with a community that otherwise felt abandoned. We had contributed to the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland at a pivotal moment in Jewish history. Obviously, we could have dedicated our Torah to any number of synagogues. But after that special wartime morning in Sderot, it was clear to me that our fathers would have been very happy with our selection. This Torah paved the way for a bright and united Jewish future. Nachum Segal is the founder of the Nachum Segal Network (, the Jewish world’s premier English-language Internet radio network. He is best known as the force behind the popular radio show “JM in the AM— Jewish Moments in the Morning.”


CREDIT: angela sissa

reach out for Israel Rally

The Jewish Federation of San Diego County (JFSD) and 67 other Jewish community partners and supporters held a rally called Reach Out for Israel in Doyle Park on July 21. Michael M. Sonduck, President and Chief Executive Officer of JFSD said the rally was being held “to bring the community together to show support for the people of Israel.” Hundreds of supporters showed up to hear music and speeches and raise money for immediate relief to Israelis affected by the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Sonduck announced that one hundred percent of the fundraising dollars would be used for humanitarian support. Despite a significant police presence, Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman expected the event to be peaceful. “I’m glad we can support this event as we do with other events,” she said.

Beth Jacob donates to the REach out for israel campaign

Left to Right: Doris Jaffe, Theresa Dupis, Michael Sonduck, Steve Rasky, Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky and Rand Levin Beth Jacob Congregation San Diego has generously donated $10,000 to the Reach Out for Israel Campaign. This is above and beyond the $22000 the synagogue raised last month from its membership to directly help IDF Soldiers. According to Michael Sonduck, CEO of Jewish Federation of San Diego County, many synagogues encouraged their individual members to participate, however, Beth Jacob is the only synagogue to contribute to the campaign as an institution.

SAve THE DATE: International Shabbat Day On October 24th, in 170 cities across the world, Jews will celebrate Shabbat in a global expression of Jewish identity and community. Shabbos San Diego is coordinating and planning an array of community ritual, educational and celebratory Shabbat programs for International Shabbos Day, in conjunction with local congregations, community organizations, youth groups, The Shabbos Project and others. Communitywide Challah Making (Oct. 23rd) and Havdalah (Oct. 25th) celebrations are planned along with private home Shabbat dinners, special congregational services, Shabbat study opportunities and guest lectures. “We want to provide a unique twenty-five hour Shabbat experience that is educational, authentic and fun”, said Rabbi Daniel Bortz, one of the Shabbos San Diego organizers. “We hope to reach 50,000 Jewish households in San Diego and that over 10,000 San Diegans will enjoy the events, services and spiritual benefits of participating in the rituals of our precious heritage.” “All factional identities, affiliations and political differences are set aside as congregations, organizations and unaffiliated Jews celebrate this special Shabbat, respecting denominational differences and engaging in Shabbat dinners, services, Kiddush, candle lighting, challah baking and study”, added Robyn Lichter another Shabbos San Diego organizer. “The vast majority of Jewish San Diegans are unaffiliated and we hope to provide everyone with an opportunity to enjoy their heritage in an inclusive and educational environment.” As part of the event, Shabbos San Diego will match volunteer Shabbat dinner hosts with guests seeking to enjoy a Shabbat experience. Shabbos San Diego will also provide supplementary materials to assist hosts create a meaningful evening. In addition, the Education Committee, headed by Hebrew Day School principal, Rabbi Simcha Weiser, will provide Torah study materials offering a unifying theme for use by all of the Shabbos participants, as lectures and study sessions are planned for Saturday afternoon. One of the challenges is to “engage everyone and offend no-one” in our community, concluded Selwyn Isakow, another organizer. There are lots of volunteer organizational opportunities on numerous committees and as liaisons for congregations and organizations. Contact Robyn Lichter at for more information. WWW.LCHAIMMAGAZINE.COM


chai life l by rabbi jack reiMer l


ara Davidson’s “The December Project” is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the job fulfilling, but simply because it is the only thing we know how to do, and we are afraid of the emptiness we may experience if we stop. Some of us play cards or golf daily as a way of avoiding questions for which we have no answer. Old age homes offer activities like water exercises, shuffleboard, bridge, bingo, trips to the supermarket, and visits to the doctor—as if only the bodies of the elderly need nurturing, and not their minds. Life expectancy is rising, more and more of us are growing older, and yet most of us have no one to turn to who can teach us how to prepare for this last stage of life. That is why “The December Project” is so 32


important. Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (commonly known as “Reb Zalman”), a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement who died in August at age 89, was in his mid-80s when he decided to meet once a week with Davidson, a well-known author, in order to explore this topic. He answered her questions, not systematically but in a stream of consciousness kind of way, in which every question led to a story, and every story led to another one. After circling around from memory to insight to story to song, he came back to the question that Davidson had raised, the central question of “The December Project.” The book is too full of insights to summarize, but here are some of SchachterShalomi’s suggestions that I found especially worth thinking about:

Make a life review

Count up all the things that you have accomplished that give you pride, and all the mistakes you have made that cause you

regret. Forgive those who have hurt you over the years, and see how often the “harm” they caused you actually ended up leading to a blessing. For instance, Reb Zalman thinks of the man who fired him from his first rabbinical pulpit at a time when he really needed that job. Looking back, he realizes how rich his life has been, and how many adventures he has had, and how many great people he has met—all because he lost that job. How can he still be angry at that man in view of what losing that job led to?

Get ready for your end

This means more than just arranging your financial affairs and telling your loved ones what they mean to you, which most of us know to do. It means being inwardly prepared so that you will not be angry or surprised when the time comes. SchachterShalomi recalls that when he was a shochet (kosher slaughterer) years ago, he would comfort the chickens that he slaughtered by whispering to them that he was not there to hurt them, and that he was not


Aging with


Jewish Renewal Movement founder’s insights form a new guide for senior living

Joan Halifax via Wikimedia Commons

they are ready, that in fact they are wearing their traveling shoes just in case he comes. Schachter-Shalomi would get up and dance a few steps while singing that song, and as he did, what it means to get ready to meet your end became tangibly real.

Start disengaging from your body

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (left) and Ram Dass in February 2008. SchachterShalomi, a founder of the Jewish Renewal movement, died in August.

their enemy, but that he was there to help them climb to a higher level by becoming food for human beings. As they worked together, Reb Zalman and the African American chicken-pluckers he worked with would sing spiritual songs together. One of the songs that they taught him, “Travelin’ Shoes,” told of how when the angel of death comes to call, good people will respond that

Reb Zalman says that we and our bodies are bound together during life, and that old age is the time to start loosening the strings. Say to your body, “Thank you for carrying me so long, and be patient. It will soon be time for you to rest, and it will soon be time for me to go on without you to a whole new level of being.”

Learn to let go

Knowing that the power you have must eventually be surrendered, and that the status you possess is not permanent, is not an easy reality to come to terms with. But unless you can do that, your old age will be spoiled by efforts to clutch onto what cannot

be held forever. Schachter-Shalomi ordained nearly 200 rabbis, cantors, and pastors in his lifetime, and then, when old age came upon him, he withdrew and let others take his place. He attended the annual conferences of his students for as long as he could, but he no longer needed to be their guru. Instead, he drew back and made room for his students to become teachers, so that the Jewish Renewal movement that he had started would live on after him. Davidson captured the spirit of this man of many sides in her interviews, and she has transmitted his insights for how to live in the “December” stage of life to all those who read her book. Since we already have books on how to be a teenager or an adult, but so few wise books on how to live in old age, I recommend this volume wholeheartedly. “The December Project,” by Sara Davidson. Harper One (New York, 2014). 193 pages. $25.99.



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