Thursday, April 29, 2010

Kosher Restaurants?

Do you have any recommendations for great Kosher restaurants? We'd like to put together a JBC list for all to enjoy. Thanks for your input!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Havdalah Social - May 1

Join us for a special Havdalah Social this Saturday night, May 1. It's a wonderful opportunity for us to spend time together, have fun, experience Havdalah, meet new people, and enjoy your Saturday night with JBC. Register at:

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Mare Winningham's "Convert Jig"

Mare performs the song she wrote to honor Rabbi Neal Weinberg.

Mare Winningham's Journey to Judaism

Country Music Singer and Actress Mare Winningham's Journey to Judaism
Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.

"I want to be the first Jewish country singer," Mare Winningham says. "Actually, Kinky Friedman was the first. But I want to be the next."

It's the kind of easy banter the actress-singer proffers between nightclub sets of her country-tinged folk music. But the setting on this Thursday afternoon is the chapel at the University of Judaism (UJ), where Winningham sits at an upright piano after completing her three-hour Hebrew class. In her pure, open voice, she launches into her "Convert Jig," a country-ish ditty she wrote to honor her "Introduction to Judaism" teacher before her conversion last year.

"He has organized the notes for life and given me the tools to turn my tiny insignificance into something big," she croons, as her eyes crinkle into a smile. "I will be a Jew like all of you ... and never eat a pig."

If the levity is unexpected, the actress thinks she is, too.
"Look, my last name is Winningham, and that in itself is funny," she says. "I joke sometimes that I'll open Winningham's Kosher Bakery and throw everyone for a loop."
Indeed, the 45-year-old actress is better known for the decidedly American (read: non-Jewish) roles she's portrayed in 70 films and TV movies than, say, for the challah she bakes on Friday afternoons.

She won a 1980 Emmy for playing a farmer's daughter in Amber Waves; received a 1996 Oscar nomination for her role as a country music star in Georgia; and starred as Kevin Costner's common-law wife in Wyatt Earp. Winningham will also appear as a Catholic single mom in the upcoming CBS series, "Clubhouse," and a stalwart prairie resident in the Hallmark TV movie, "The Magic of Ordinary Days." (She's perhaps best known as the virginal Wendy from the Brat Pack flick, St. Elmo's Fire.)

As she leaves the piano to munch some kosher almonds, she says she's happy to be back at the UJ after the four-week "Magic" shoot near Calgary, Canada.

"We were in the middle of nowhere, so I knew I was going to miss Shavuot," she says, ruefully.

Shavuot, which celebrates converts, is Winningham's favorite holiday, because it's the first she observed after converting in March 2003. For that Shavuot, she stayed up all night studying at Temple Beth Am; in Calgary, she improvised by studying Jewish books such as The Midrash Says, a five-volume set she's vowed to complete this year. Also in her suitcase was her trusty Shabbat travel kit, which includes candlesticks, a prayer book, a Havdalah candle and spice box.

"I've been known to light Shabbat candles in a Honeywagon trailer," she says of her experience on various sets.

Her observance has been "a real conversation starter," especially among fellow Jews. Larry Miller, her co-star from CBS' short-lived "Brotherhood of Poland, N.H.," recalls his surprise upon learning that Winningham rushed home to bake challah one Friday afternoon.
"It was like having Grace Kelly say, 'By the way, what time is Mincha?'" he says, referring to afternoon prayers.

Winningham wouldn't forget the time.

"She takes her Jewish studies very seriously," Beth Am's Rabbi Perry Netter told The Journal. "It's part of her incredible desire to be part of the Jewish world, not for any other motive than she feels so deeply and passionately Jewish."

The actress traces her spiritual journey to her Catholic childhood in Granada Hills. Her great-uncle, "Father Dave" Maloney, was bishop of Wichita, Kan.; her devout mother, Marilyn, sent Mare and her four siblings to catechism at the cathedral across the street.

"My mom influenced me greatly with her beautiful devotion to her faith," Winningham says. But that came later. By age 14, Mare says, she had developed problems with religion in general and "the idea of someone dying for your sins."

A 12th-grade comparative religion course fueled her budding agnosticism; after graduating from Chatsworth High--where an agent discovered her in a production of The Sound of Music--Winningham began "a resolutely secular existence." In 1982, she married her now ex-husband in a non-denominational ceremony; she raised their five children (today ages 15-22) in a household where holidays were celebrated in an irreligious, if flamboyant fashion.
"I cooked for days," she says about Christmases past.

It wasn't until her children were nearly grown that Winningham found herself reading works by Jung, Joseph Campbell and others in an attempt to sort out nagging religious and psychological questions. In summer 2001, she visited a "creation of the world" exhibit at a science museum and made an announcement to herself: "I don't think I believe in God."
"But that night, I had the most remarkable dream, which told me, 'If you're going to reject something, at least find out what it is you are rejecting,'" she says. When a friend told her about the UJ's Introduction to Judaism class, Winningham thought, "OK, I'll begin by studying the Jews, since they started the one-God thing."

While she intended to approach the class from a historical, intellectual perspective, the epiphanies began the day she stepped into Rabbi Neal Weinberg's UJ class in November 2001.

"There I was, struggling with God, and one of the first things he said was, 'Israel means struggle with God,'" she says.

"When Mare started, she seemed to be checking Judaism out," Weinberg recalls. "But before long, she enthusiastically embraced the values of Judaism and Jewish family life."

The actress says she began celebrating Shabbat and fell in love with an observance that included "ritualizing, literally, the breaking of bread... Shabbat fed me literally and figuratively, and I found myself finding my way to God through this very earthly endeavor of feeding my family."

Although her children are not Jewish, they helped her rate brisket recipes, participated in Torah discussions and invited their Jewish friends to her Shabbat table.

Winningham's attraction to Judaism deepened as she read the Bible: "Everything one needs to know about behavior here on earth is manifest in these stories," she says. "Anything one could find confusing or morally challenging is answerable. When the most important thing about a religion is how you behave here, and not about what happens after you die--these are the things I believe my soul was longing for and rejecting in other religions."

By December 2001, she was regularly attending Netter's Bait Tefillah minyan at Temple Beth Am.

"Mare drank everything in," Netter recalls. "There was a certain intensity in the way that she concentrated, both on the siddur and on the Torah discussion that would take place."
After Winningham observed her first Yom Kippur that year, she knew she had to convert.
"There was something about petitioning God, as a community, for forgiveness," she says. "I knew then that Judaism was something I couldn't live without."

On March 3, 2003, an entourage of friends and relatives accompanied Winningham to the official ceremony at the UJ.

"Sitting in on her beit din [rabbinical court] was one of the most moving experiences I have ever had of conversion," Netter said. "It was apparent to me and to the other rabbis that this was a woman who was born a Jewish soul, in terms of the depth of her feelings and the rawness of her emotion."

Cori Drasin, a former Beth Am vice president, says she was especially touched by the ritual immersion part of the ceremony.

"I stood behind the curtain as Mare chanted the blessing in the mikvah [ritual bath], and the walls just resonated with her beautiful voice," Drasin says.

A friend placed a Star of David around Winningham's neck (she's still wearing it) and "I cried a lot," she says. She was moved not only to become Jewish, but because her family has been so supportive.

"When I told my mother I was going to become Jewish, she said, 'You know Mary, they were the first,'" Winningham recalls.

The actress' children have also been accepting, which, Winningham says, "is lucky, considering that it must be weird for your mom to embrace a new religion when you're a young adult."

The performer also feels lucky to have been embraced by the Beth Am community, where she recently chanted from the Torah for the first time.

"Everyone in the minyan rejoiced," Netter says. "It was as if one of our children had become Bat Mitzvah."

Winningham isn't content to stop there. A self-prescribed "cheerleader for the Torah," she intends to read the entire Bible in its original language, which is why she's taking that Thursday Hebrew class at the UJ.

"I don't care if it takes decades, I'll finish it eventually, I really will," she says. "I may be 80 when I finish, but that would be a beautiful thing."

Winningham sounds more like a scholar than the world's second Jewish country singer when she adds, "Judaism for me is like a mystery novel. I just can't stop reading; that's what it's like for me."

"A Convert Jig"
(Mare Winningham wrote this to honor her "Introduction to Judaism" teacher, Rabbi Neal Weinberg, and she performed it during a tribute to him at the University of Judaism.)
Guard your tongue, love your neighbor
Help someone to help themselves
It's required--it's not a favor
That is what my teacher tells us
Don't be late-you'll miss the prayer aerobics
Ancient melodies you need to know
How to sing the holy songs--to add your voice where it belongs
And how and when to lift up on your toes
That is what my teacher tells us
That is what I've come to learn
He has organized the notes for life
And given me the tools to turn
My tiny insignificance into something big
I will be a Jew like all of you
And dance a convert jig
Take the time to learn the Hebrew
Memorize your holidays
Keep kashrut--and study on the Torah
You'll reap rewards forever and always
Cut your flowers, set your table
Light your candles and say your prayer
Then you'll know how you are able
To feel you're Jewish, anywhere
That is what my teacher tells us
That is what I've come to learn
He has organized the notes for life
And given me the tools to turn
My tiny insignificance into something big
I will be a Jew like all of you - your tree has grown a twig
I will be a Jew like all of you - and never eat a pig
I will be a Jew like all of you - and dance a convert jig!
(c) 2004 The Jewish Journal, All Rights Reserved

Monday, April 19, 2010

Mare Winningham converts with Judaism by Choice

Mare Winningham, a former student of Rabbi Weinberg and Judaism by Choice, sings the "Convert Jig" - see it here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

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Monday, April 12, 2010

JBC 2010 Spring Schedule of Classes

Classes can be taken once a week or twice a week, or in advance.
Missed classes can be made up at a later date. You are welcome
to enroll and start classes anytime.

Register for classes here.

Judaism by Choice offers the following classes:
Monday and Wednesday Nights (Twice a week)
April 7 - June 28, 7:00 - 9:45 PM
Sha'arei Am - The Santa Monica Synagogue View Map
Instructor: Rabbi Neal Weinberg

Tuesday and Thursday Nights (Twice a week)
April 27 - July 15, 7:00 - 9:45 PM
Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre View Map
Instructor: Rabbi Neal Weinberg

Sunday Mornings
April 11 - September 19, 10:00 AM - 12:45 PM
Temple of the Arts at the Saban Theatre View Map
Intructor: Rabbi Neal Weinberg

Sunday Mornings (You can still enroll anytime.)
January 24 - May 12
Sundays, 9:00 - 11:30 AM and
Wednesday Nights, 7:00 - 9:30 PM
Temple Ner Maarav (Valley) View Map
Instructor: Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen

Click here for Class Schedules.

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Sponsor a JBC Program
The Mitzvah (giving of tzedakah: charity) of sponsoring JBC events is a wonderful way to share your joy and at the same time support Judaism by Choice. Sponsor a JBC event in honor of your friends, family or for your own simcha (special occasion), or for no specific reason at all. Sponsor an event with a group of friends, your family or go it alone. Bringing your special moments to JBC through sponsorship helps to develop your connections to the community, while also supporting our important celebrations. See and experience first-hand the benefit your sponsorship brings to those who participate!

Sponsorship opportunities are available for JBC events, holiday celebrations, Israel trips and more. JBC is a non-profit organization and thanks to the generous support of the community we are able to provide the JBC experience at reduced cost.

To sponsor an event, make a donation or create a scholarship, please contact:
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Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: 888-539-2924

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