The second annual Camp Neshama attendees come together in the lodge of the Dovid Oved Retreat Center in Running Springs. Photo courtesy of Pico Shul.

Moving & Shaking: Pico Shul goes skiing, BJE and AFOBIS celebrate


Pico Shul went to the mountains over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend with a shabbaton organized by the Orthodox congregation and the young professionals group JConnect.

The three-day retreat, called Camp Neshama, was held at the Dovid Oved Retreat Center in Running Springs, Calif., which is owned and operated by Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, the local branch of the international religious Zionist youth movement.

More than 30 young professionals took advantage of the surroundings, spending the weekend skiing and snowboarding at the nearby Snow Valley Mountain Resort, sledding on tiny hills inside the grounds of the retreat center and enjoying communal kosher meals.

“People go to what they want, or they can hang out, relax and make new friends and talk, and have conversations into all hours of the night,” Rabbi Yonah Bookstein, spiritual leader of Pico Shul, said in a Jan. 15 interview as people prepared for car rides back to Los Angeles.

The weekend was the congregation’s second Camp Neshama. The inaugural event was held last Labor Day.

A Friday night dinner kicked off the retreat. On Saturday, people spent daylight hours doing yoga, going on nature walks and attending a lecture on relationships by Bookstein’s wife and Pico Shul rebbetzin Rachel Bookstein.

On Saturday night, people wore wireless headphones to listen to two stations of music — one with Israeli dance tunes and the other with contemporary pop hits — and boogied silent disco-style.

Decked out in ’80s-style snow gear, artist, yoga instructor and writer Marcus Freed was among those who braved the slopes on Sunday before reconvening with the rest of the group in the afternoon for lunch.

The event culminated with a farewell breakfast Monday morning. Shelli Carol, a tutor from Palo Alto, said she appreciated the philanthropic Alevy family for sponsoring the gathering, adding, “I spent my weekend having way too much fun and not getting enough sleep.”


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Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu speaks at a ceremony honoring seven firefighters who volunteered in Israel. Directly behind him are (from left) councilman Bob Blumenfield, fire chief Ralph Terrazas, city controller Ron Galperin and councilman Paul Koretz. Photo courtesy of Council District 4.

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas joined Los Angeles City Councilmembers David Ryu, Bob Blumenfield, Mitchell Englander and Paul Koretz at City Hall on Jan. 20 to honor seven local firefighters who traveled to Israel in November to fight the deadly blazes that erupted there.

The seven men, six from the city fire department and one from the Los Angeles County Fire Department, took time off from work and paid their own expenses to travel to Israel with the Emergency Volunteers Project, an Israeli government-backed organization that trains emergency responders abroad to assist in Israel in times of need. The organization counts 950 volunteers trained since 2009.

The men were LAFD firefighters Elan Raber, Shaun Gath, Aaron Brownell and Ben Arnold, LAFD engineer Dennis Roach, retired LAFD apparatus operator Mike Porper and L.A. County Fire Department firefighter Jake Windell.

The major fires that broke out across Israel, from both arson and natural causes, left more than 1,000 people homeless and caused about a quarter of the city of Haifa to be evacuated.

The firefighters also were honored the same day at the headquarters of the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.

“The state-to-state relationship, as well as the personal friendships that have developed between the first responders in Los Angeles and Israel, serve as a reminder of the strong ties between the two countries,” a statement from the consulate said.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg, Consul for Political Affairs Yaki Lopez and Consul for Public Diplomacy Maya Kadosh attended the ceremony at the consulate.

Eitan Arom, Staff Writer


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From left: Errol Fine, chair of the West Coast board of AFOBIS; Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg; AFOBIS board member Lee Samson and his son, Daniel; and Benjy Maor, director of global resource development at Beit Issie Shapiro. Photos courtesy of American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro.

The American Friends of Beit Issie Shapiro (AFOBIS) West Coast regional gala 2016 was held at Sinai Temple on Nov. 17.

ms-sharon-cermakThe event honored Sharon Cermak, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, with the AFOBIS humanitarian award.

“I’ve always done work with kids with disabilities and I think Beit Issie is one of the premier institutions for work with children, so being honored by Beit Issie, by a Jewish organization, really meant the world to me,” Cermak said in an interview.

Cermak currently is involved with a program at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, adapted from an initiative at Beit Issie Shapiro, that creates a sensory-friendly environment for children with autism receiving dental care. As part of the program, soothing music is played, the dental office lights are dimmed, and a vest is placed on patients so as to apply deep, comforting pressure to them.

“We’ve developed something at Beit Issie Shapiro, a butterfly vest, which provides children with a ‘hug’ from a butterfly,” Cermak said. “The vest on the chair wraps around the child and provides deep pressure, which is calming for children [and] helps kids be calmer.”

Beit Issie Shapiro is an Israel-based organization that serves children living with disabilities. Located in Ra’anana, Israel, the organization offers early intervention and medical services as well as special education programs to children living with autism, and it develops technologies that improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities.

Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg attended the event and said the organization demonstrates that Israel is more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Beit Issie Shapiro is a glowing example of Israel as an innovation nation imbued with compassion, combining high-tech and high heart,” Grundwerg said. “As a global leader of innovative therapies and state-of-the-art services for children and adults with disabilities, Beit Issie Shapiro is an unparalleled ambassador for the State of Israel.”

Additional attendees included Avishai Sadan, dean of the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC.

Headquartered in New York, AFOBIS raises funds to support Beit Issie Shapiro.


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Attendees at the Builders of Jewish Education gala included (from left, top row) Philip Miller, Gil Graff, Alan Spiwak, Adrian Miller, Larry Miller and Jerry Katz, as well as (from left, bottom row) Judy Miller, Judy and Louis Miller, and Caryn Katz. Photo courtesy by Mark Lee.

Builders of Jewish Education (BJE), the central agency for Jewish education in Los Angeles, honored 20 members of the philanthropic Miller family and recognized professionals Phil Liff-Grieff and Monise Neumann on Jan. 18 at Sinai Temple.

“It was phenomenal,” Miriam Prum Hess, director of donor and community relations at BJE, said of the evening. “We honored an amazing family that really is a role model from generation to generation — l’dor v’dor — and two professionals who are the epitome of creativity, professionalism and caring.”

More than 530 people turned out at the event, which raised more than $500,000.

Funds raised will benefit the BJE March of the Living program, which is in need of additional staff historians to accompany teenagers on the upcoming March of the Living trip to Poland and Israel, as fewer and fewer survivors are alive or physically able to go.

The funds also benefit the BJE Hebrew Language Proficiency Project, which is focused on maximizing day school students’ acquisition of Hebrew language skills. The Journal reported in 2015 that the program has “had an impact on 2,000 students, 65 teachers and 27 Hebrew coordinators and lead teachers.”

Members of the Miller family honored included the patriarch and matriarch of the family, Louis and Judy Miller, the namesakes of the Miller Introduction to Judaism Program at American Jewish University.

Marjorie Gross, Natalie Roberts, Angel Schneider and Sheila Baran Spiwak co-chaired the event, which saw the Daniel Raijman Ensemble perform and Dr. Mark Goldenberg serve as emcee.


ms-landresShawn Landres, co-founder of Jumpstart Labs, a Los Angeles-based incubator of Jewish innovation, in December was elected chair of the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission (QPC), which oversees the nation’s oldest and largest local government innovation fund.

He is serving a renewable one-year term.

Landres has served as a member of the commission since 2013. He was first appointed by former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky in 2013 and reappointed by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl in 2015. He chaired his first meeting on Jan. 23.

Landres also serves as board co-chair of Jumpstart Labs.

In addition, the father of two is a senior fellow at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and chair of the City of Santa Monica’s Social Services Commission.

Moving & Shaking highlights events, honors and simchas. Got a tip? Email ryant@jewishjournal.com. 

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