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Ex-Radicals Discover Sense of Community

June 11, 1987|TOM WALDMAN

Linda Scharlin and her fellow students at the University of California, Santa Cruz abandoned the classrooms for the streets when President Nixon ordered the mining of Haiphong Harbor in May, 1972.

Scharlin did not think twice about her decision. She had been influenced by radical politics ever since entering college.

She was among a group of protesters who registered their anger by blocking freeway traffic. The police came, arrests were made, and Scharlin spent eight hours in jail.

Barry Pinsky opposed the war in Vietnam with less flair. Pinsky, also a UC Santa Cruz student, went into town and circulated anti-war petitions. The 18-year-old freshman kept at it for weeks, until one day he looked around and realized that his comrades had lost interest, leaving him to carry on alone.

Left Student Activism

Disillusioned by their lack of dedication, Pinsky withdrew from student activism. "I take commitments seriously," he explained.

That applies no less today than it did in the early 1970s. Pinsky and Scharlin, married 11 years, have embraced Orthodox Judaism, with its strict dietary laws and prohibitions against any kind of work on the Sabbath.

They are one of the many young couples who have moved into the neighborhood surrounding Shaarey Zedek Congregation, the Orthodox Jewish synagogue located on Chandler Boulevard between Whitsett Avenue and Coldwater Canyon Avenue in North Hollywood.

In college Pinsky and Scharlin were part of a community united against the war; now they live in a community united by a belief in traditional Judaism.

But the couple, both 35, insists that their move toward the Orthodox faith has not meant they have left liberal politics behind. The Santa Cruz years, plus time spent living in Berkeley, have not been forgotten. "Our lives have changed, but we have not changed," observed Pinsky.

Scharlin realizes, however, that the carefully regulated life she leads today might surprise, even shock, her college friends. "I've often wondered if I ran into my friends from Santa Cruz and told them I had four kids, keep kosher and don't drive on the Sabbath, they would drop over dead," she said.

But neither Scharlin nor her husband became observant out of a desperate psychological need. In fact, they did not respect the quick religious conversions occurring around them. "We were both suspicious of people who went from Zen Buddhism to Chabad in a week," said Pinsky.

Since childhood, Pinsky and Scharlin had been religious. Each had been raised in homes where Judaism meant Shabbat dinners, Hebrew school on weekends and semi-regular trips to the synagogue. Pinsky was a reform Jew. Scharlin was conservative.

Both of their parents started families at a time when anti-Semitism declined in the United States. In the comparatively free environment, religion was de-emphasized.

"It was almost as if we were only presented with the beginning of something," said Scharlin.

Desire to Learn More

Her husband felt the same way. When they were dating, the two spent many hours discussing their mutual desire to learn more about Judaism. They eventually decided to have an Orthodox Jewish wedding.

Pinsky's parents, who live in Downey, have not reached the point where they can dismiss the nagging inconveniences that come from trying to coordinate plans with Orthodox Jews. Dietary laws make it extremely difficult to select a suitable restaurant. Family gatherings on Saturdays are all but ruled out because of religious restrictions against driving or working on the Sabbath.

The tension is only now starting to ease. "My parents have been living with this for enough years that they understand," said Pinsky.

For other families, their children's religiosity causes not only discomfort, but pain. Scharlin has talked to friends in the community whose parents regard the move to Orthodox Judaism as a slap in the face. According to Scharlin, these parents are convinced that their children have rejected values taught in the home.

Close-Knit Community

The young Orthodox Jewish couples of North Hollywood spend lots of time discussing their lives with each other. It is all part of living in an unusually close community. People go to synagogue together, take religious classes together and routinely socialize in each other's homes.

People in the community keep an eye on one another, the result of people living in close proximity. "Everyone we know lives within a mile of us," said Pinsky, exaggerating only slightly.

The "trading" of children has become a North Hollywood tradition. Scharlin felt she had finally arrived in the community when--after living there for about a year--she brought a friend's son home for a Sabbath meal.

Pinsky and Scharlin have four boys--who range from five months to seven years--and each child is receiving--or will be--a Jewish day-school education.

Secular Summer Camps

The children get a break during the summer, when they are sent to secular camps. "They are allowed to play in summertime," said Scharlin.

Many of the other young couples in the area insist on sending their children to Orthodox Jewish camps. This is not the only way Pinsky and Scharlin are different. Scharlin retained her maiden name, which is extremely rare in the Orthodox Jewish community.

For doing this, Scharlin has been accused of being anti-religious. But Scharlin, whose decision had nothing to do with rebellion, has never found one rabbi who said that Jewish law mandates the wife take the surname of her husband.

During the past year, two other Orthodox Jewish wives who retained their maiden names have moved into the area. "It takes a lot of pressure off me," said Scharlin.

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