Volume 3, Number 61
"There's a Jewish story everywhere"

Today's Postings:

Friday-Saturday, March 13-14, 2009

{Click on a link to jump to the corresponding story. Or, you may scroll leisurely through our report}

Israel democracy no more 'distorted' than others ... by Ira Sharkansky in Jerusalem
We are hearing, once again, that the results of the Israeli election are a "distortion of democracy."

Jewish religious organizations oppose the death penalty ... by David Benkof in New York
Jewish radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager, whom I admire greatly, has been outspoken about his belief that Judeo-Christian values support the death penalty for murderers. READ MORE

Ibim Student Village retools for a vocational program ... by Soni Singer in Ibim, Israel
During this post-war period, we are taking the time to recover and return to a routine. Unfortunately, the Kassam rockets have not ceased entirely, and we have a painful daily reminder of our unresolved conflict.READ MORE

The legacy of the San Diego Jewish Academy's new Torah ... by Donald H. Harrison in San Diego
Sometimes an individual Torah scroll can make nearly as great an impression on its reader as the first five Books of the Bible which are inscribed within it.

Recovering Scott Silverman offers others Second Chance ... by Sara Appel-Lennon in San Diego
The book, Tell Me No. I Dare You! grabbed me, because of its unique title for a nonfiction adult book. Kids say: I dare you” to show how tough they are. Adults sometimes have the same thought but rarely verbalize it.

The unspoken signals between conductor and orchestra ... by David Amos in San Diego
SAN DIEGO—The August 21, 2006 issue of The New Yorker had a wonderful article called Measure for Measure, by Justin Davidson. It was a fairly detailed essay on the role of the modern conductor, mostly based on the author’s conversations with Maestro Robert Spano.READ MORE

October 31, 1952; Southwestern Jewish Press:

To See Or Not To See READ MORE


Jacobson To Be Installed As Sciots Toparch READ MORE

Labor Zionist Organization READ MORE

Hadassah News READ MORE

We continue our examination of Jewish entertainers

Mo Howard of the Three Stooges as a "Kung Fu Master" VIEW VIDEO

Sam Jaffe in the title role of "Gunga Din" with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. VIEW VIDEO

Shemp Howard (of the Three Stooges) almost avoids being poisoned in "For Crimin' Out Loud" VIEW VIDEO

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Carol Ann Goldstein: Don't overload your web page with images READ MORE


America's Vacation Center
Balloon Utopia
Carol Ann Goldstein
Congregation Beth Israel
Jewish Community Foundation
Jewish Family Service
Lawrence Family JCC
San Diego Community Colleges
San Diego Jewish Academy
San Diego Jewish Chamber
Soille San Diego Hebrew Day School
Tifereth Israel Synagogue
United Jewish Federation
XLNC-1 Radio


Soni Singer, the director of the Ibim Youth Village, who has a column in today's edition, also was the subject of a YouTube video made just after the Gaza War:

Each day's issue may be dedicated by readers—or by the publisher—in other people's honor or memory. Past dedications may be found at the bottom of the index for the "Adventures in San Diego Jewish History" page.

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Israel democracy no more 'distorted' than others

By Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM—We are hearing, once again, that the results of the Israeli election are a "distortion of democracy."

Details of the complaints vary with the complainers. One problem this time, as on other occasions, is the weight of religious parties. On their menu are increased funding for religious schools, increased family payments that will benefit the large families of religious Jews (as well as Arabs whose parties are allied with the ultra-Orthodox on this issue), an opposition to civil marriage, and their usual opposition to non-Orthodox Judaism.

Another problem is the weight of right-of-center Likud, Israel Beiteinu, and National Unity.

What those who talk about "distortions of democracy" really mean is that they are not happy with the election results.

As far as I know, there is no democracy that is not distorted in one way or another.

Look at the United States, as an example familiar to many of us. It is "distorted" on account of the equal representation of the states in the Senate. This gives the residents of low population states more weight than those of large population states. The United States is also "distorted" by other features of its federal system, which allow the authorities of individual states to rule as they wish about access to alcohol and constraints on abortion, what school books may say about evolution, how much is spent on education, and many other issues. For some Americans, it is a distortion of democracy that environmentalists or supporters of Israel have too little or too much weight in Congress and the administration, depending on who is up and who is down.

Each democracy has its rules of the game, and they do not give equal weight or complete freedom. Some are always more equal than others.

The rules of the game in Israel, and how they work to affect government, reflect its history, the population, and the issues that lead voters to choose one or another of the options available. In this general trait, Israel is similar to the three dozen or so other countries that qualify as democracies.

Israel's system of proportional representation is about as undistortedly democratic as is possible to achieve. About 30 parties run in each election, and 10 or so usually get the 2 percent minimum required for getting seats in the Knesset.

The number of seats that parties have in the Knesset reflect divisions in the population. Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox parties have enough to protect their turf. Arab rejectionists get their share, which usually produces ten MKs barking outside of the government about how unfair things are. In recent years the mostly Jewish secular parties have divided in ways so that no one of them is clearly dominant, largely on account of disagreements in the population about how to deal with the issue of Palestine.

Israelis urge reform, and occasionally the Knesset tinkers with the details. A prominent change gave each citizen two votes: one for prime minister, and one for a party list of Knesset members. This prevailed in the elections of 1996, 1999, and 2001. Opponents called the reform a failure, and cited the distortions they said it created. The Knesset reverted to a single vote for a party list and a conventional parliamentary arrangement. Now as before 1996, the Knesset must approve which of its members will be the prime minister, and the government he or she offers.

The advantage of keeping things as they are is that players know the rules, and how they can maximize their advantages.

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 When the rules change, the complications of politics may produce surprises that disappoint some even more than in the case of the previous rules.

A Russian friend thinks Israel is undemocratic because he cannot marry a non-Jew. Russia was more democratic.

I remind him that he can marry who he wants outside of Israel, register the marriage here, and live happily ever after. A Cyprus marriage is likely to be less expensive than an Israeli marriage. A couple can probably do the whole thing, including the 30 minute flight, for less than $1,000, without having to feed hundreds of guests. A Jewish man with the name of Cohen cannot marry a Jewish divorcee in Israel. But he can do it elsewhere and register the marriage here. A Justice of the Supreme Court found himself in that situation, did what he had to, and did not suffer in public.  I do not know if he suffered at home.

Democracy concerns procedure and not outcome. Its essential ingredients are wide access to the vote and media, ample opportunities to persuade and criticize, accurate counting and reporting of the results, and the acceptance of the outcome by the losers.

By "distortions of democracy" some people mean "violations of civil rights." This opens the issue of "what are civil rights?" In Israel and in other democracies, this question is subject to dispute, and decision by the legislature, administration, and courts.

Many Israelis may be unhappy with the results of an election, or what the winners do with their power. They should try harder next time, or realize that their desires do not have the support they would like.

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Jewish religious organizations oppose the death penalty

By David Benkof

NEW YORK—Jewish radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager, whom I admire greatly, has been outspoken about his belief that Judeo-Christian values support the death penalty for murderers. He is fond of pointing to the fact that capital punishment for murder is the only law that exists in all five books of the Torah. Yet interestingly, the organized Jewish community is either opposed to capital punishment or takes no position:

• The Reform and Conservative movements in North America have both taken strong stands against the death penalty.

• Nine years ago, the Orthodox Union called for a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty.

• The right-of-center Orthodox Agudath Israel of America takes no official position on capital punishment, despite its conservative stances on many other public issues.

I asked the latter organization's director of public affairs, Rabbi Avi Shafran, why he thought so many Jewish organizations do not support the death penalty, and he told me: "Jews have all too often found themselves on the wrong side of the administration of capital punishment - often for the sole 'crime' of being Jewish. So there's a natural and understandable reluctance among many Jews to push society to mete out the ultimate punishment to anyone. That many a convicted criminal in the United States has later been exonerated by evidence or testimony only adds to the reluctance."

The Torah calls for the death penalty not only for murder but for a variety of other offenses, including violating Shabbat, witchcraft and a wide range of sexual sins. But we know from the Talmud and other rabbinic texts that the Jewish death penalty was applied very rarely, with high burdens for proof of guilt - far higher than those imposed by the 36 American states that have capital punishment. For example, two individuals had to witness the capital crime, and there had to be a "kosher" warning before the act took place. The Talmud says that any court that imposed death on a convict once in seven years - or even once in 70 - was considered a "bloody" court.

Given the private nature of many of the transgressions that call for the death penalty, it is not surprising that the high burden of proof was rarely if ever reached.

Yet opponents of Torah law like to point to the existence of capital punishment in Torah law as evidence that the God-given system of human justice is somehow barbarous and

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bloodthirsty. It's just not true. Conversely, some law-and-order types cite the phrases "an eye for an eye" and "a life for a life" out of context, and use the biblical system of retribution to support civic measures of punishment that go far beyond the way capital punishment ever worked under Torah law.

Israel only has the death penalty for genocide and crimes against humanity, and there has been just one civil execution in the country's history - of Final Solution architect Adolf Eichmann. While I am certainly glad that the Earth's air is no longer poisoned by Eichmann's breath, I wonder if someone in his category should be killed while others who have caused grave suffering to the Jewish people get to live out their lives in prison. The deaths at Auschwitz were horrible, yes, but are the tears of the families of victims of bombings planned by Palestinian murderers any less bitter? Israel would do well to get rid of its two-tiered system of capital justice and swear off the death penalty altogether.

Finally, there is the issue of the humaneness of the death penalty. Under Jewish law, capital convicts would be given alcohol until they were intoxicated, so they would suffer less. In the American system, convicts are first given a paralytic, so if they do suffer under the consequent two lethal drugs, they cannot express their pain. And there is significant evidence that they do suffer.

This system works well for everyone but the convict - the executioners and the witnesses do not have to see anything messy, while the condemned may suffer greatly in silence. If we have to have a death penalty, a firing squad would be better, as it is in effect the opposite of lethal injection - the condemned suffers little, while the rest of us have to see exactly what we've done.

Somehow I like that better.

But ultimately, it seems to me that life in prison without parole is a better option than the death penalty - in Israel, North America and throughout the world.

David Benkof writes the "Fabulously Observant" column for the Jerusalem Post, where this essay first appeared.


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Ibim Student Village retools for a vocational program

By Soni Singer

IBIM STUDENT VILLAGE, Israel—During this post-war period, we are taking the time to recover and return to a routine. Unfortunately, the Kassam rockets have not ceased entirely, and we have a painful daily reminder of our unresolved conflict.

However, we continue work as before, saying farewell to our graduates and welcoming our new residents. After two and a half years of living on Ibim and completing their matriculation at Sapir College, thirty-five Ofek IV graduates celebrated the conclusion of their program. They were joined at their graduation party by teachers from Sapir, volunteers and mentors from over that long period, and of course, all the Ibim staff.

I may note that fourteen out of the thirty-five students actually came to Ibim "straight off the plane," and spent a year at the Village prior to the Ofek program. It was with sweet tears that we said goodbye. We are proud of our graduates and are confident that they will succeed independently.

Immediately after Purim, we plan to launch our new vocational program for Ethiopian immigrants; a vision conceived together with the San Diego-Ibim Steering Committee. The program, which will initially comprise fifty participants, is geared to Kedma graduates who will not continue on to university studies.

The participants will reside at Ibim while they study auto mechanics, plumbing or welding. Taught by professional, experienced instructors, in highly regarded courses run by the Ministry of Labor and Commerce, the students will study a full curriculum. Upon completion, the graduates, tested by their skills, will receive certification, and most importantly, the ability to earn a respectable living in a desirable profession. We are very proud to see our ideas take shape in our constant search for solutions.

We continue to work on securing (from rockets) our apartments in expectation of the arrival of a group of young families this summer.

As the saying goes - "Our rejoicing soars in the month of Adar. "We wish all of us a happy month ahead – one of joy and good tidings. Happy Purim.

Singer is the director of the Ibim Student Village in Sha'ar Hanegev municipality. The school is financed with annual contributions from United Jewish Federation of San Diego.

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For more information, email: israelcenter@ujfsd.org

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TORAH SCRIBE—Sofer Alberto Attia, at left, shows a San Diego Jewish Academy student what a Torah looks like
up close; at right, he inscribes letters onto a panel that will stitched into SDJA's Legacy Sefer Torah. (SDJA photos)


The legacy of the San Diego Jewish Academy's new Torah

By Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO—Sometimes an individual Torah scroll can make nearly as great an impression on its reader as the first five Books of the Bible which are inscribed within it.

This happened at Congregation Beth Am, where for many years a Torah rescued from the Czech city of Roudnice was read by every bar/ bat mitzvah student within that Conservative congregation in a symbolic “twinning” ceremony for the children of Roudnice who perished at the Nazis’ hands before they could become b’nai mitzah.  

So great was the feeling of connection that when Beth Am moved from its first home in Solana Beach to a new synagogue in Carmel Valley, it erected in its courtyard an arch that had been modeled after the only Jewish building left standing in Roudnice after the Holocaust.  The arch pattern was repeated within Beth Am’s new synagogue building.

Not far away in the Carmel Valley section of San Diego,  a campaign now is underway to create another Torah scroll to which people will feel a deep spiritual and emotional connection. San Diego Jewish Academy has commissioned a San Diego-based sofer, Alberto Attia, to write a Torah scroll in which SDJA students, faculty and staff—as well as the Jewish community at large—may have a role in creating.

Attia reports that the Torah is now almost 4/5th written en route to formal dedication ceremonies that will be conducted just prior to the holiday of Shavuot—celebrated on the Jewish calendar as the day that God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.  In 2009, Shavuot corresponds with the evening of Thursday, May 28, and day of Friday, May 29.

What is known as the Legacy Sefer Torah was begun last year as graduating SDJA seniors returned from their class trip to Israel.  After sharing with the seniors some of the ritual requirements of writing a Torah, Attia advised the seniors that one letter of the Legacy Sefer Torah scroll would be inscribed in each student’s honor.

One by one, the students came up and put their hands lightly on the sofer's hand, shoulder, or arm as he carefully, painstakingly, wrote a letter in dark black ink onto the scroll made from the smooth, velvety underside of a kosher animal’s epidermis.   That individual letter became the student’s letter, and should she or he so desire, the student forever after can find a copy of that letter in any Torah or prayer book reproduction of the Torah.

Rabbi Leslie Lipson, dean of Judaic Studies at SDJA’s Maimonides Upper School,  said that by participating with Attia in fashioning a Torah letter, the students “fulfilled the mitzvah of writing a Torah,” which is considered a religious mandate for every observant Jew.

He said observers could see that the ceremony had an impact upon the students “when you watched the expression on their faces when they had just filled in a letter.”

The students “appreciate the idea that every letter is imbued with a sense of holiness, and it requires all these letters to do a sefer Torah,” Lipson said.  “It strengthens their understanding that Hebrew is a holy language.”

Attia has coordinated closely with Lipson and with Debbie Kornberg, director of Judaic Studies for SDJA’s Golda Meir Lower School, on a range of activities intended to better acquaint the students of the school with the Torah and its traditions.

Of interest is the fact that Kornberg is the wife of Rabbi David Kornberg of Congregation Beth Am, the same congregation where the Roudnice Torah has made such an impact.

The Judaic Studies director said as a result of Attia’s lectures at the school, students “in every class, kindergarten-through-five, know how a Torah is made from animal skin into a parchment paper, how it is sewn up, how you make the ink, what are the tools you use, why you don’t use a pen, how a sofer prepares himself for a job, and what he must do before he inscribes the name of God onto the Torah.”

Before the Holy Name is written, the sofer goes to a mikvah (ritual bath) to purify himself.   According to Attia, there are two practices: some soferim go to the mikvah each day before they start work, and therefore are able to write any of God’s names whenever they come to one in the course of their work.  Others, like himself, go to the mikvah less often so leave in the Torah scroll spaces in which to backfill God’s name after they have taken the ritual bath.  On such days, he said, many names of God may be filled in at a single sitting.

Kornberg said Attia has fascinated students with his tales of the Torah.  For example, they were intrigued to learn that Hebrew letters were developed from what initially were little pictures.  The “b” of Hebrew—Bet—originally looked like the “floor plan of a house” and it evolved.   The dalet—or ‘d’ in Hebrew— “is a door.”

Another piece of information that Attia likes to share is that “the ink we use for writing a sefer Torah has to be jet black.  It is so black that it gives off light, you can see the light glimmer off the letters.   If someone were to write a Torah in designer colors—a green or a blue—it would not be kesher.  Part of the reason is that when you mix colors, and put everything together, you get black.  The amazing thing is that no matter

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how much you add another color, black will stay black.  So the message of this is that the Torah is eternal.  Times may change, morés may change, but the message of the Torah (like the black ink) stays the same.”

Activities associated with the Legacy Sefer Torah project continue this weekend with “Torah Fun Day” to be held  on the SDJA campus for current and potential preschool families.

“There will be numerous games dealing with the Torah,” said Kornberg.  Preschoolers "will be decorating a wood-shaped Torah, decorating a cookie shaped like a Torah, shrink-a-dink Torahs that can be made into necklaces or magnets."

There also will be "a pretend Torah with a yad (pointer), which kids can pretend to be reading, and a Torah story corner.  Also, a music teacher will be there with instruments mentioned in the Torah at ‘Miriam’s Music Corner’; there will be a tortilla torah, carnival games like ‘Pin the Yad on the Torah,’ and one big piece of butcher paper, in the shape of a rolled- out Torah, on which kids can put their handprints if they can’t write their own names.’

Every person in attendance will have the opportunity with Attia to write a letter, whether they are affiliated with San Diego Jewish Academy or not, said Kornberg.  “We want to share this project with our community; it’s not just for our school.”

According to Attia, a Torah has 304,805 letters, so there are plenty to go around.

On March 16 and 17, Golda Meir Lower School students will have the opportunity to inscribe Torah letters with Attia at a ceremony to which their parents will be invited.

Even as last year’s graduating class had the opportunity to symbolically inscribe letters into the Torah, so to will this year’s class on April 2 prior to leaving on their trip to Israel.

Adult school students who attended classes on the Torah cosponsored by SDJA and the Agency for Jewish Education will get their turn on April 3 when Attia will be the speaker. Reflecting the school's Jewish pluralistic philosophy, those classes were previously instructed by Rabbi David Frank (Reform) of Temple Solel; Rabbi David Kornberg (Conservative) of Congregation Beth Am; Rabbi Menashe East of Kehillat Ahavat Yisrael (Orthodox) and Rabbi Lipson.

Additionally, Holocaust survivors who live in San Diego County have been invited to inscribe the Legacy Sefer Torah during a Holocaust remembrance ceremony on April 21.

The Legacy Sefer Torah has been the nucleus around which SDJA has been raising money to expand its Judaic Studies Department.  The school set a goal for itself of a half million dollar endowment, according to Meg Goldstein, its development director.

Interested families were invited to become “Legacy” donors, and to choose among three levels of financial sponsorshi. Each level was some variant of 18, the number in Hebrew which also spells “chai” or life.

A minimum gift of $108,000 (that’s 18 times 6,000) entitled the donor family  to be recognized as the sponsor of the entire Torah, with family member names  to be inscribed inside the door that opens the tik  (crown) of a silver Sephardic Torah case fashioned in B’nai Brak, Israel, similar to the one at the left.  

A gifts of $36,000 (2,000 X Chai)  sponsored one of the five books of the Torah, with the names of these donors listed on the tik's opposite door.  Gifts of $5,400 (300 x Chai) sponsors one of the 54 parashot (reading portions) of the Torah.  The Torah, its five books and at least 16 of the parashot already have been reserved, according to Goldstein. 

The lead gift was made by Liz and Isaac Calderon, for whom the Jewish Studies Endowment Fund will be named, she added.

Rabbi Lipson said that the SDJA community made an “important statement, especially in this economic climate, to say that we want a Jewish Studies endowment.”

The rabbi said that the endowment fund would contribute to the cost of having teachers trained in various Jewish Studies curricula and to conduct research necessary to adapt the curricula to SDJA’s specific needs.  Some faculty “would be able to take time in the summer to investigate the curriculum, and be trained in its use.”

The dedication of the Legacy Sefer Torah will culminate the fundraising campaign.  Kornberg said that at 1 p.m. on Thursday, May 28, the new Torah in its beautiful silver casing will be marched under a chuppah onto the campus and that Sam Glazer, a well-known Jewish folk singer, will entertain for the occasion in the school’s new gymnasium. 

That date will also mark San Diego Jewish Academy's 30th anniverary.

Harrison's email is editor@sandiegojewishworld.com

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Recovering Scott Silverman offers others Second Chance  

By Sara Appel-Lennon

SAN DIEGO--The book, Tell Me No. I Dare You! grabbed me, because of its unique title for a nonfiction adult book. Kids say: I dare you” to show how tough they are. Adults sometimes have the same thought but rarely verbalize it.

This is a story about Scott Silverman, a Jewish, San Diego native, who was addicted to drugs and alcohol. He turned his life around by joining Alcoholics Anonymous to become clean and sober. He helps other addicts including ex-felons to do the same by enrolling them in a three week rehabilitation, job readiness program, where he provides referrals to low cost housing. He has appropriately named his nonprofit agency Second Chance.

Silverman talks about how his addiction was a distraction from his fear of life. Although his family was supportive of him, h emotional scars from his childhood took a toll on his self-esteem. He writes that the negative messages he received from teachers caused him to doubt his own abilities.

When he was in the 3rd grade the teacher asked him to show the class where the Pacific Ocean was on the map. He guessed incorrectly and the kids taunted him by calling him stupid; he felt shame as a result. He interpreted this event as a prediction that he would never succeed.

As a third grader, he started misbehaving to receive attention because he never wanted to experience that shame again. He discovered that he was rewarded for negative behavior.

Furthermore, he didn’t learn to read until the 4th grade, which reinforced his belief that he was stupid. When he was seventeen a psychologist told him “that he was not good at anything and he might as well “become good at doing nothing” and he believed him.

As a result of accumulated discouragement, he started drinking and taking drugs.
He decided he could excel as an alcoholic and drug addict.

In the 1980s when homosexuality was not discussed publicly, Silverman’s brother, Gregg died of AIDS, yet his family was one of the first Jewish families in
San Diego to disclose their son had been gay. This was a turning point in Silverman’s life where he regretted some of his decisions, namely that he hadn’t spent more time getting to know his brother.

Only after a suicide attempt in 1984 where a coworker intervened, did he start saying no to his destructive life cycle and yes to affirming life. Interestingly enough, the coworker yelled “Get the hell away from that window before you fall, you idiot!” Fortunately Silverman did not focus on being called an idiot. He realized that someone cared about him, that suicide was not the answer, and it was OK to ask for help.

As Silverman states “My motto “Tell Me No. I Dare You!” is based on the belief that each and every individual on the planet has a piece of success tucked into their heart or soul or gut. It is there; it is real; and it is the part of the person that yearns for something good. I have not met the person who does not have at least a speck of that yearning. And I respect the yearning. I respect the person within the package. A part of what respect means to me is being willing to admit I do not know another’s world, yet I am willing to learn what I can about that world.“

The 5 keys of Tell Me No, I Dare You
1. Know your yes-find out what is right for you. Spend time with those who believe in you.
2. Commitment-Be willing to do what it takes to achieve the goal
3. Ability to be uncomfortable-Go for your dream and be willing to go past the no
4. Take the time- do a good job
5.There is always a way

The message of the book was strong and it’s commendable that Silverman overcame his own addictions and now helps others to realize their inherent value. I admire that he went to Harlem to enroll in a program called STRIVE, Support and Training Result in Valuable Employees. He was given a second chance and now he’s giving others a second chance.

Personally, I would have preferred more imagery and reading more about how he maintains his sobriety and less back story about his life as an addict. I would have enjoyed reading more phrases like the following quote which shows word pictures.

”I abandoned my intellect and buried my emotions .I did it with drugs, and I did it with Southern Comfort. Others do it with eighty-hour work weeks, super-sized meals, and a diet of blame, complain, and despair. Everyone has their own way of dealing with shame.”

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I enjoyed reading about how the clients in the program changed after they became clean and sober. I would have liked reading more about other clients, instead of mostly about the author, and how the clients fare years later.

When Silverman introduces his brother, Gregg, I became more interested. Perhaps he could have started the book there because I found myself wanting to read cliff notes of the book. In good writing less is more!

I noticed that Silverman told a story about a kid named Johnny who went to school and started coloring flowers but the teacher criticized that he colored the leaves blue. Then he went to a different school and asked what color to use for the flowers. The teacher told him it was up to him. This story reminded me of the song, Flowers Are Red by Harry Chapin.

I started reading this book while working out at the gym on Feb. 18th. The coincidence is that Feb. 19th, 2009 was declared Scott Silverman day in San Diego for his community contribution. Silverman was also a recipient of a Hero Award by CNN.

I agree with Silverman’s message of saying yes to what is life-affirming, and it is never too late to make better choices. These are lessons that Silverman has learned and shares in his book and in the work he does at Second Chance.

Columnist Appel-Lennon may be contacted at appels@jewishsightseeing.com___________________________________

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The unspoken signals between conductor and orchestra

By David Amos

SAN DIEGO—The August 21, 2006 issue of The New Yorker had a wonderful article called Measure for Measure, by Justin Davidson. It was a fairly detailed essay on the role of the modern conductor, mostly based on the author’s conversations with Maestro Robert Spano. If you are interested in this complex but fascinating subject, I highly recommend it to you.

I would like to give you some of my personal observations, based on my own experiences, which reinforce, complement, and at times clarify a few basic points in this fine article. For starters, it must be understood that the better the quality of the orchestra, the more subtle signals from conductor to musicians actually translate into a positive difference in the orchestra’s sound and its interpretation.

It is truly remarkable how an orchestra adapts itself to the beat and style of a conductor. The Philadelphia Orchestra was renowned throughout most of the Twentieth Century for its beautiful string sound, at first with Leopold Stokowski, and later, for decades, with Eugene Ormandy. Ormandy himself insisted that the lush string sonorities were a result of the way his hands moved.

And I can see how this is correct. During Charles Munch’s Boston Symphony years, the orchestra had a distinctive “French” sound and texture. Their Debussy and Ravel recordings are unsurpassed to this date. And when Munch guest conducted other orchestras, within ten minutes of the first rehearsal, that orchestra started to sound “French”! By the same token, when a guest conductor started to work with the Boston Symphony for only a few minutes, it already sounded like a different group. Not better or worse in this instance, just different.

I have personally seen it, when two different conductors face the same orchestra in the same evening, the sound from the stage can be totally different. Harsh or mellow? Focused or distant? Boring or interesting? Sloppy or precise?

Sometimes conductors provoke what I call an “unfriendly sound”. The musicians play very precisely and follow the maestro’s indications to a beat, but what reaches our ears are strident, harsh sonorities which make us feel subconsciously uneasy. Few of the great conductors had that perfect balance. Bruno Walter’s friendly sound was a joy, but not to the standards of precision expected today. Von-Karajan’s cold, silvery sheen never earned him the title of “Mr. Warmth." And so on.

During the 1980’s I heard the Israel Philharmonic in Tel-Aviv in two consecutive weeks, first with Leonard Bernstein, and later with Zubin Mehta. No better or worse here, just two different sounds, both memorable and wonderful.

And give credit to the experienced musicians. They are uncannily perceptive to the unspoken signals of guest

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conductors. Their reactions and conclusions affect the sounds they produce. When I was conducting the Royal Philharmonic in London, I casually asked one of the musicians during a break, “How soon can you tell if a conductor knows what he is doing, or is a charlatan?”  His answer surprised me a bit: “At times, it takes us two or three minutes, but usually we have him pegged before he conducts his first beat."

During my early, less experienced days, I was rehearsing the Israel Philharmonic in a Mozart concerto, and was not particularly at the style in which the musicians were playing. I stopped, and tried to verbalize the kind of sound I wanted, the length of the notes, the bow pressure, etc. But the wise concertmaster simply told me, “David, no need to tell us; just show it!”  I did just this, and within a few minutes, their Mozart was exactly my Mozart. Great orchestras can do this, and they adapt very quickly to the non-verbal demands of a conductor. That was a moment for me to remember.

Sometimes, certain kinds of beats from a baton work better with some orchestras than with other ones. A soft downbeat may have worked for me to perfection in London, may not give me the same results in say, Slovakia. So, as a conductor, I adjust and quickly make a decision as to what works best in a particular situation. Recently, I faced orchestras in Mexico and Canada, and had to modify my baton technique to suit the music and the musicians.

 This is especially important in recording sessions, where all involved are working against the clock to cover precisely and artistically all the music that is being recorded.

Let us not forget that in the final outcome, the conductor is not the one who makes the sound of music, but the musicians themselves. Ideally, what you see in a concert is a conductor who, while facing the musicians is establishing the tempo of the music, while reinforcing what was done during rehearsals. This is where conductor and orchestra become one. Eye contact and subtle expressions and movements contribute to the magic which some concerts can be.

After all, a concert, ideally, is a non verbal report to the audience of the statement of the composer and how this was accomplished during rehearsals. Many spontaneous moments contribute to the concert experience, but on the whole, the final musical interpretation we hear is the result of a disciplined, intelligent, and sincere preparation.

Ironically, the demands on conductors and orchestras have changed radically through the years. In the old days, a resident or guest conductor would have up to 12 rehearsals to prepare a Beethoven symphony. In our jet age, a guest conductor to one of the London orchestras may have only one three-hour rehearsal to accomplish the same results with the same work of the standard repertoire.

As you can see, the art of orchestral conducting is highly complex and interesting. But the more you learn about it, the more rewarding your musical experience can be.

Amos is the conductor of the Tifereth Israel Community Orchestra and has been a guest conductor of orchestras the world over. He may be contacted at amosd@sandiegojewishworld.com

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Adventures in San Diego Jewish History


To See Or Not To See
Southwestern Jewish Press, October 31, 1952, page 4

By Berenice Soule

We were very fortunate in prevailing upon Dick Lustig to be guest columnist for this issue.  Dick and Jane have just returned from New York where they say many of the Broadway hits.  We thought you would be interested in getting Dick’s report first hand.

Dick Lustig Reports
The theatrics people we met were pessimistic about the future of the legitimate theatre and disgusted with the lack of quantity and the poor quality of production; equally high costs of seats—$6.60 for the best, plus ticket broker’s fees as high as $10.00 or more depending on the hit; many other evils, none which seems to be correct.  I was told that the monopoly Sam Shubert has on Broadway is killing it.  He now leases or owns 90 percent of all the legitimate theatres in New York City and 95 percent of the ticket brokers.  (Isn’t that a laugh?)  The U.S. Government is planning a suit against him for this monopoly.  He is so powerful now that he won’t gamble on a show unless it’s safe and commercial.  To combat this, there is some talk by others of taking over movie houses in downtown New York City to create new legitimate houses.

We noted two trends in the Theatre:  first, all musicals and most plays are now in two acts.  Personally, I like three acts; this is much too long sitting.  Second, to enable commuters to see more shows,  Monday curtains rise promptly at 7:00.

As To The Shows We Saw
“Pal Joey” is like a double Martini—kept us floating on air an hour after we left the theatre.  Although twelve years old, it is one of the best musicals I’ve ever seen:  catchy songs, unusual choreography, fast pacing, marvelous spicy lines, young and vibrant.  Sensationally buoyant Harold Lang  fills Gene Kelly’s shoes with ease.

“Point of No Return”—beautiful adaption but Henry Fonda and cast seem tired after four hundred performances.

“The King and I”—one of our disappointments.  Constance Carpenter lacks the fresh vivaciousness of Gertrude Lawrence.  Though beautifully staged with lavish sets and costumes, the show drags.  Yul Brynner, as king, is excellent and the fourteen children used for the princes and princesses were lovable.

“Mrs. McThing”—“Harvey’s” mother, Mary Chase, has done it again.  This fantasy a certain Pixi-charm that made it more enjoyable, to me, than “Harvey.”  In her inimitable way, Helen Hayes adds luster to a delightful play.  A twelve year old boy, the central character, has a gigantic part and delivers it flawlessly.

“The Time of the Cuckoo”—we were lucky to see the dress rehearsal of this one, Shirley Booth gives a marvelous performance in a weak play.  She, like Helen Hayes, is worth seeing in any play.  This will be the last show to be given at the famous Empire Theatre, the oldest legitimate house in New York City.  It will be torn down at the close of this run to make room for a new skyscraper.

“Wish You Were Here”—our greatest disappointment.  Originally closed to bad press notices, was supposed to have been rewritten for reopening.  Press agents must have worked overtime.  With the exception of the title song, music is weak, very little and very poor dancing, story disjointed.  Only claim to fame—first stage show to have swimming pool built on stage.

Southwestern Jewish Press, October 31, 1952, page 5

In celebration of USO Week, plans have been completed for the JWB Open House program to be given on November 5 from 8:00 to 11:30 p.m. at Temple Center.

A military orchestra will furnish music for dancing.  During intermission, a special program will emphasize the theme of “A Salute   to USO.”  Featured on the program will be special entertainment by Miss Shirley Toles and a group of USO entertainers.  Greetings will be given by Mr. George Scott, President of the San Diego USO Advisory Council, Mr. Henry Weinberger, Chairman of JWB Armed Services Committee, and other prominent civic and military leaders.  Members of the Armed Services Committee will act as hosts and serve refreshments throughout the evening.

The public is invited to attend ths interesting program and observe how USO and JWB serves the men and women in uniform.  For further information contact the JWB office, 215 Spreckels Building, F-9-3712.

Jacobson To Be Installed As Sciots Toparch
Southwestern Jewish Press, October 31, 1952, page 5

The San Diego Pyramid Number 32, Ancient Egyptian Order of Sciots will install Isadore Jacobson to the throne of Toparch on Saturday evening, November 8th at 8:00 p.m.  the ceremony will take place at the House of Hospitality Auditorium in Balboa Park.

This installation will be open to all Masons and their wives who are most cordially welcome, following the installation there will be entertainment and dancing.

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Labor Zionist Organization
Southwestern Jewish Press, October 31, 1952, page 5

We wish to extend a belated vote of thanks to our members, the Frank Bermans.  By sponsoring a party to celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary, they were able to combine this happy occasion with benefitting a worthy cause in Israel.  Sizable sum of money was raised which was turned over to the special fund of Kupat Holim (Health Institution of the Histadrut) for the purchase of linens and medical supplies for the new Beilinson Hospital addition near Tel Aviv.  May they celebrate many more anniversaries in such a fashion.

Our monthly cultural meeting for the fall season will be held on November 9 at Tifereth Israel Synagogue at 7:30 p.m.  Our guest speaker will be Mr. Albert Hutler who will speak on “Public Relations on the local and national scene.”  We will also have an exceptionally attractive musical program presented by two talented instrumental musicians.

Hadassah News
Southwestern Jewish Press, October 31, 1952, page 5

With the theme of “Reap   and Joy,” four thousand women attended opening sessions of Hadassah’s National Convention on Oct. 25 at Detroit, Mich.

Miss Helen Kelller, outstanding American personality, was among speakers who presented the Hadassah role in Israel as seen personally by them.  Other speakers were the Hon. Abba Eban, Israel’s Minister to the United States; Mrs. Martha Sharp; and Hadassah’s National President, Mrs. Samuel Rosensohn.

Mrs. Robert Strauss, Hadassah’s local president, attended the convention and will continue traveling in the east with stopovers in New York and Illinois, but she will be on hand at Hadassah’s November meeting with a vivid report of convention activities.

“Adventures in Jewish History” is sponsored by Inland Industries Group LP in memory of long-time San Diego Jewish community leader Marie (Mrs. Gabriel) Berg. Our indexed "Adventures in San Diego Jewish History" series will be a daily feature until we run out of history.

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Jewish Internet Favorites ...
featuring notable Jewish community members

We continue our exploration of Jewish performers
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Mo Howard of the Three Stooges as a "Kung Fu Master"

Sam Jaffe in the title role of "Gunga Din" with Cary Grant and Douglas Fairbanks Jr.

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Shemp Howard (of the Three Stooges) almost avoids being poisoned in "For Crimin' Out Loud"

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