Rabbi’s new book: ‘Do You Want to Drive, Or Do You Want to Bitch?’

The inspiration for Rabbi Sheldon Moss’ new book came during a car ride with his wife, Barbara, in the passenger seat.

She was complaining about his driving and at one point, he turned to her and asked, “Do you want to drive, or do you want to bitch?”

The phrase “triggered a contagious laugh between us that grew in intensity because it could fire on so many levels at once,” he writes in the book’s prologue. “Did we choose to create what we wanted or complain about its absence; be the cause or suffer the effects; create the menu or be on the menu? It all came down to a choice: drive or bitch?”

Moss, the rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City and president of the Area Ministerial Association, whose “Do You Want to Drive, or Do You Want to Bitch: Driving Under the Influence of the One You Love” ($16.50, Strategic Book Publishing) was released in February, has worked nearly four decades as a research psychologist. He is an ordained Reform rabbi, has a Ph.D. in psychology and another doctorate in divinity.

Rabbi Moss book

His newest book – this is his fifth – uses examples from the thousands of couples he has worked with throughout his career. “To protect their confidentiality, I’ve kind of morphed all these people into classical kinds of issues that most people face,” he tells Jewish News.

“The goal of my work is to deepen the bonding between people who are emotionally committed to each other,” he says. The deeper the bonding, the quicker the conflict resolution.

“The importance of bonding is that it makes life worth living,” he says. Moss also advocates for couples to use humor as a tool to bond. His “bonding through humor” concept is presented in his book “Love and Laughter Forever After” and the companion seminar “When We Laugh.”

This coping skill proved valuable a few years ago, when Barbara was diagnosed with mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) in 2008. Moss credits her remission – it’s been six years now – with the couple’s proactive stance. “Instead of bitching, we were going to collaborate and partner around each trial as it came up. And we got her through it. … That which can’t be cured can be endured in a much better way if you can talk about it openly,” Moss says.

The theme throughout his newest book focuses on couples driving together, with chapters reflecting the theme, such as “Rough Starts Before Accelerating Confidence,” “Windshields are Thirty-Five Times Larger Than Rearview Mirrors for Good Reasons” and “Fighting Gridlock.”

The book also contains several exercises  for couples to do together.

“A lot of couples will tell you – if they’ve been married 40, 50, 60 years – that they’ve had about three relationships with each other during the time and they renegotiate and reinvent,” says Moss, who has been married 29 years. These new “relationships” are brought on by different stages of life, such as having children, times of illness or gaining or losing a lot of money.

As for the name of the book, Moss recognizes it as “kind of a bold word for a rabbi to use. The word is so wrong and it’s also so right because everyone knows what I’m talking about.”

“Do You Want to Drive, or Do You Want to Bitch” is available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and sbprabooks.com/sheldonwaynemoss

This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

Rabbis author book of children’s prayers

“We didn’t even have children when we started this project,” says Lee, who plans to retire in June from the Hillel Jewish Student Center at Arizona State University after 42 years – 40 years as executive director and most recently as rabbi on a part-time basis. “I think [Roy] was already on the edge of grandchildren when we actually finished.”

Rabbi Barton Lee

Rabbi Barton Lee

They first discussed the idea for the book while on vacation near San Diego with their wives in the late 1970s, but it just took “a great deal longer than we ever anticipated for it to see the light of day,” Lee says.

The goal was to write a book to inspire “Jewish children to have a connection to prayer in their lives.” Because they started on the project long before the days of email, their early work was done face to face during visits; Lee was at the ASU Hillel and Walter was the rabbi at Congregation Emanu El in Houston (he retired in 2011 after 41 years there).

“It was a good excuse for friends to get together,” Lee says.

They worked on the book through the years and at one point the manuscript sat for a long time until it was eventually rejected. The effort to get it published was sustained by a former ASU student, Jan Pasternak, who wanted to honor her mother, Helen Pasternak, who had taught at Congregation Emanu El, Lee says.

“ ‘My Prayers’ is a gift from Helen’s family to children everywhere,” reads the dedication in the book. “It is our special way of honoring our mother and grandmother and continuing her tradition of love for children and for Judaism.”

Instead of continuing to search for a publisher, they decided to publish it through Walter’s congregation, Congregation Emanu El Press, Lee says. It was published in 2011.

One of the biggest challenges was trying to find the right artwork, says Lee. The illustrations were by Limb Design, based on drawings by Jose Perez.

“The Jewish community is very different now than it used to be,” Lee says, and they wanted to make sure all children would find a character in the book they would identify with, across the multiple ethnic lines found in today’s Jewish community.

The illustrated backgrounds had to be changed, too. At one point, Lee realized that the backgrounds had a Midwestern look, with lots of green grass, so they added some desert scenes and apartment buildings to represent different residential areas. “It’s amazing that you end up thinking about things you never thought you would be thinking about,” Lee notes. “That was quite a trip itself.”

Another example of this is found in “My Prayer About a New Day,” which includes a reference to playing computer games.

During the writing process, Lee and his wife, Marcie, raised two children, and his co-author raised three children with his wife, Linda, which no doubt inspired some of the content.

The prayers in the book cover a variety of topics, from going to sleep and having a bad dream to prayers about a pet, a rainbow, a new home, going on a trip and being sick in the hospital. Lee says his favorite prayer in the book is “My prayer about a bad day.”

There are two versions of the book – the original one for a Jewish audience, and a second one that is nondenominational. The Jewish book includes the Shema prayer on each page, both in Hebrew and a transliteration.

They opted not to translate the Shema, the authors explained in a note to adults at the front of the book, because the usual translations are too abstract for young children. “When your child asks what the words of the Shema mean, teach your child that these words are the Jewish way of saying, ‘We believe in one God.’ ”

The note from the authors also says that the book is “based on the authors’ belief that God is near – that God cares about us, shares our joys and sorrows and is a source of strength in times of anxiety. We believe that prayer expresses deep personal feelings and is our way of sharing our joys, sorrows and anxieties with God.”

“My Prayers: A Jewish child’s book of prayers for every day” (Congregation Emanu El Press, $17 hardcover) is available on amazon.com. This article first appeared on jewishaz.com.

A timeless people

Over the course of four years, Rabbi Saul Landa, a dentist from New Jersey, spent Passover in the Lower East Side of New York, Purim in New Orleans, Tu b’Shevat in Phoenix and Sukkot in Baltimore. He also attended weddings in Denver and San Francisco, a bris in St. Louis and the 20th annual Kosher BBQ Cooking Contest and Festival in Memphis, Tenn.

He documented his visits to 18 U.S. Jewish communities with photographs, juxtaposed them with archival photographs and comA Timeless Peoplepiled histories and accounts of present-day life in these communities through interviews with the community’s elders, historians and leaders. The result is “A Timeless People,” released this month (Gefen Publishing House, $50 hardcover).Over the course of four years, Rabbi Saul Landa, a dentist from New Jersey, spent Passover in the Lower East Side of New York, Purim in New Orleans, Tu b’Shevat in Phoenix and Sukkot in Baltimore. He also attended weddings in Denver and San Francisco, a bris in St. Louis and the 20th annual Kosher BBQ Cooking Contest and Festival in Memphis, Tenn.

The avid photographer, traveler and hiker – in 2006, he reached the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain – combined his passions of photography and Judaica for this coffee-table book, with a mission to document longtime U.S. Jewish communities that remain viable today.

For more than a decade, Landa, a professor of dentistry at the University of Pennsylvania, has served as a photojournalist for Jewish newspapers and maintained a stock photo company called JI – Judaic Images.

In 2008, Landa attended the Orthodox Union’s first Emerging Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair, which brought individuals representing various U.S. Jewish communities to New York. He interviewed several of the visitors to help decide which communities to cover. Initially, he thought he’d cover all 50 states but soon realized that “was going to be an impossible task.”

“It was very hard to narrow it down,” he says. The criteria he used was that his selections must represent four U.S. geographical areas – the Northeast, South, Midwest and West – and have an interesting history.

The 18 featured communities are: Baltimore; Bangor, Maine; Charleston, S.C.; Cincinnati; Dallas; Denver; the Lower East Side, N.Y.; Memphis, Tenn.; Milwaukee; Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn.; New Orleans; Newport/Providence, R.I.; Oakland/San Francisco, Calif.; Philadelphia; Phoenix; Seattle; St. Louis; and Washington, D.C.

“Every community has a different personality,” Landa says. “It’s absolutely fascinating.”

Over four years, he traveled to these communities, spending four days in each. He arranged interviews beforehand and made sure there was an event – whether it was a life-cycle event such as a bar mitzvah or a holiday celebration such as Hanukkah – that he could attend during his visit.

One of his most memorable experiences, however, was unplanned. When he was in Charleston, S.C., he attended services at Brith Shalom Beth Israel and noticed the numbers tattooed on the arm of the gabbai, Holocaust survivor Charlie Markowitz. The next day, Landa asked Markowitz if he could photograph him and talk to him about his life.

Markowitz’s story exemplifies the theme of the book, which Landa says is about continuity, perseverance and survival: “How does a community survive?”

There are two different types of survival, he says, the first exists in communities outside the United States, such as in Eastern Europe, where survival meant surviving hardships.

“In the U.S., the survival that I was fascinated with was the survival in a community where you have all the freedoms that you wanted. How does the religion survive when you have a plethora of freedom? So from the point of view of emotions, when this gentleman put on his tefillin over his numbers, that shows survival in two ways. That shows survival in his youth and survival now in Charleston. It was so emotional for me that it made it to the cover of the book.”

Another memorable learning experience was about how the Jewish community in San Francisco had to rebuild after the whole neighborhood was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and, more recently, the reconstruction of the New Orleans Jewish community after Hurricane Katrina.

During his visit to Phoenix, Landa interviewed Rabbi David and Odette Rebibo, who have lived in Phoenix since 1965; Zalman Segal, founder of Segal’s kosher market; and other local Orthodox rabbis and community leaders. He also searched through archives of the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix and met with Lawrence Bell, executive director of the Arizona Jewish Historical Society.

“Phoenix was fascinating to me because it was the true West,” he says. “It was truly the desert. When I picked Tu b’Shevat for Phoenix – or Phoenix picked me for Tu b’Shevat, as (it was the only community) who had a tremendous event going on for Tu b’Shevat (referring to Jewish National Fund’s Tu b’Shevat festival) – it seemed perfect to have Tu b’Shevat in Phoenix, the complete desert and we’re talking about the yearly regrowth of trees. It was a perfect match.”

Landa photographed about 70 percent of the book’s 1,000 photographs and juxtaposed them with archival photos of the same subject matter.

“When I juxtapose pictures of somebody from World War II holding a lulav and then I have somebody now holding a lulav, to me that says it all,” Landa says. “Perseverance, continuity and survival, that’s what this book is all about.”

The book is available at atimelesspeople.com, amazon.com and at other booksellers. Contact the writer at atimelesspeople@gmail.com. This article first appeared in the May 27, 2011 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Who is a Jewish mother?

Jewish mother

One morning at 3 a.m., as I was holding my 8-month-old son and worrying about his stuffy nose, it suddenly occurred to me – I am now a Jewish mother.

Could all the jokes about the worrying, nagging and overbearingness now potentially apply to me? Are these attributes innate, something that will slowly develop as my son grows, or are they merely stereotypes?

Fortunately, three books released this year help new mothers like me learn about their new role and glean some wisdom from their pages.

For “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother” (Hyperion, $22.95 hardcover), comedian Judy Gold and playwright Kate Moira Ryan spent five years traveling across the U.S. interviewing Jewish mothers to find out what makes them different from non-Jewish mothers. As the

title implies, they asked them each 25 questions; topics range from religious observance – “Do you find Judaism limiting or empowering?” and “Are you kosher?” – to parenting – “Do you approve of your children’s choices?” and “What is Jewish mother guilt?” Interspersed with quotes by mothers from all Jewish backgrounds, Gold writes about her relationship with her mom and her own journey through parenthood.

In “‘Yiddishe Mamas’: The Truth About the Jewish Mother” (Andrews McMeel, $14.95 paperback) by Marnie Winston-Macauley, the author starts out by addressing the stereotype of the Jewish mother. Who is she?

Yiddishe Mamas

Rather than using the word “stereotype,” Winston-Macauley prefers “ethno-type,” which she describes as allowing “us to treasure our uniqueness as a group and as individuals without falling into the trap of carbon copying all Jewish mothers.” This has no positive or negative judgment, she writes, but instead “allows us to look at our history, our biology, our values and characteristic traits without prejudice or the quick sound bite.”

So what are these traits? She lists them as sacrifice (having the child come first); the importance of education; expectations of excellence; kvetching; worrying; expressing love with food; overprotection; control; guilt; high intensity and humor; activism, community and philanthropy; and measuring our own success through our children’s success.

In one chapter, “Yes, they, too, are Jewish mothers,” Winston-Macauley interviews many different types of Jewish mothers – from early American settlers to female rabbis. There’s even an interview with the Valley’s own Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, in a section called, “This land is our land,” about mothers in the military.

“You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother” (Oxford University Press, $24.95 hardcover) by Joyce Antler follows the evolution of the Jewish mother from the turn of the 20th century until today.

You Never Call - Mother

Antler looks at the early roots of Jewish moms in America – from the “My Yiddishe Mama” (a 1925 ballad first sung in Yiddish by Sophie Tucker) and Molly Goldberg, a radio-turned-TV character described as “the prototype of the Jewish mother” of the 20th century, to feminists and “Roseanne.”

For many in my generation, the “Jewish mother” stereotype is deeply embedded in our minds, but it’s actually relatively new. In fact, according to Antler, the Jewish mother jokes originated in the heyday of the Borscht Belt in the 1940s and 1950s.

Although each of these three books takes a different approach in exploring what a Jewish mother is, they all have the same message: There are all different types of Jewish mothers.

And I have a feeling that most mothers, regardless of religion or nationality, are up in the middle of the night worrying about their babies.

This first appeared in the May 11, 2007 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.

Secondhand, but not second-rate

Ruth Cohen, director of the Brandeis Book Shoppe and board member of the Phoenix chapter, displays one of the rare books donated to the bookstore. This book, "Wee Drappies" by Sir Harry Lauder, was published in 1932 and features an empty scotch bottle which fits into the book's pages.

Ruth Cohen, director of the Brandeis Book Shoppe and board member of the Phoenix chapter, displays one of the rare books donated to the bookstore. This book, “Wee Drappies” by Sir Harry Lauder, was published in 1932 and features an empty scotch bottle which fits into the book’s pages.

In a city dominated by corporate booksellers, one small Phoenix bookstore thrives on donations and uses the Internet to sell to the world.

The Brandeis Book Shoppe, operated by the Phoenix Chapter of the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, was a natural transition from the group’s annual fund-raising book sale. Eventually “it got to the point that the city was growing so fast and we couldn’t get empty space in a shopping mall for a book sale,” says Ruth Cohen, bookshop director and Brandeis board member. So they decided to open a bookstore instead.

“When we first opened up the store, we didn’t really know much about how to put a store together,” Cohen recalls. “All our experience was on book sales.”

However, the group was persistent and in 1996, Brandeis volunteers started stocking shelves at 3343 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix.

Over time, the facility’s interior slowly declined until it got to the point that Brandeis decided it needed a makeover.

“We decided to completely revamp it and we did,” Cohen says.

Over the past summer, volunteers ripped out the carpeting and replaced it with wooden floors and put in new bookshelves. “It’s been a labor of love,” Cohen says.

The Book Shoppe hosted a rededication ceremony and open house on Jan. 18, with guests Rabbi Albert Plotkin, Mayor Phil Gordon and former governor Rose Mofford.

About 60 people visited the Book Shoppe that day, some for the first time.

“The best part (of the open house) was that members of Brandeis who had never seen their bookstore came in and they stood there with their mouths open and said ‘this is so beautiful,’ ” Cohen says.

Volunteers run the store in shifts between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, and the facility also houses the chapter’s office.

Although the store mainly sells books, there are also collectibles, vintage jewelry and art – all donated. Books range from fiction of all genres and nonfiction from Afro-American History to Writing. The “Book Nook” in the back of the store offers sheet music, reference books, coffee table books and $1 bargain books.

Proceeds help support education, scientific research and student scholarships to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Virtual guests can browse store inventory on abebooks.com, an online marketplace for used, rare and out-of-print books.

Through that Web site, the Brandeis Book Shoppe is able to “sell books to the world,” Cohen says. The shop has shipped books throughout the United States, as well as to Australia, Canada, Japan and London, and other countries.

Last week, Yale University in New Haven, Conn., purchased “The Story of the Exposition” by Frank Morton Todd, a five-volume set about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition published in 1921, Cohen notes.

One of the most unusual donations the Book Shoppe has received was a collection of about 50 16-inch records of programs for radio stations that were sent overseas during World War II, Cohen says. A man from New York purchased the whole series. Another unusual donation was 25-30 years of playbills from Philadelphia and New York theaters.

Brandeis University National Women’s Committee was founded in 1948, the same year as Brandeis University. Eight Boston women were recruited to build a collection of books for the school’s library. Since then, the women’s committee has grown to 44,000 members in 91 chapters nationwide and expanded its support to student scholarships and research fellowships. By 1996, the number of book donations from the National Women’s Committee to Brandeis libraries reached one million.

The Phoenix chapter was founded in 1948 and currently has about 1,300 members, according to a Brandeis representative. Besides the bookstore, the local chapter offers classes, book and music groups and University on Wheels, an annual lecture program featuring Brandeis professors.

Brandeis often redonates books to a variety of organizations, including several local schools, John C. Lincoln Adult Day Healthcare, the Maricopa County Prison System, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Friends of the North Central Regional Library and the V.A. Medical Center. They also work with the United Methodist Outreach Ministry to help them supply to people in need and supply large-print books to senior centers, says Connie Weiss Flegenheimer, past president of the Phoenix chapter.

“We don’t throw anything away – we give it away,” Cohen says. “Anything we can’t sell that people give us, we see that (it gets) a good home.”

This article first appeared in the Jan. 30, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.