A benefit event for the Brent Shapiro Foundation at Green Acres mansion in Beverly Hills on Sept. 9 raised more than $1 million.
The gathering was hosted by Linell and Robert Shapiro, a defense lawyer, who established the foundation following their son Brent’s death at age 24 in 2005. Brent Shapiro was involved with alcohol and drugs since in his early teens. He went to rehab several times and was clean for 18 months before attending a party where he drank beer and took an accidental overdose of the drug Ecstasy.
His parents created the foundation to honor his life and promote prevention and awareness of chemical dependence. The foundation operates the Brent’s Club program that works in conjunction with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Brent’s Club serves more than 1,300 young people who are tested for drug use every year. None has failed a test so far. All graduates receive a college scholarship, and two of the graduates were honored during the event, receiving awards plus full scholarships.
“We started 12 years ago with 100 people in the club,” said Linell Shapiro, “and now we have expanded to six clubs and we are going to open two more in New York and Malibu. These kids appreciate what we are doing for them and it warms your heart to see them. Tonight is a celebration of Brent’s life. I’ve never known anybody who was so loved like he was. He is incredibly missed, and I know he is here with us tonight and loves the message of giving back.”
So far, 3,000 young people between the ages of 11 and 17 have participated in the program.
The event, hosted by Mario Lopez and Robert Shapiro, honored singer Demi Lavato, who has struggled with her own substance abuse. Also in attendance at the event were Priscilla Presley, Sugar Ray Leonard, Adrienne Maloof and Tracee Ellis Ross.
— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) hosted events at fire and police stations around the United States to pay tribute to American first responders and commemorate the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
JNF built the 9/11 Living Memorial in the foothills of Jerusalem in 2009, and it stands as the only memorial outside of the U.S. that lists the names of all of the victims of the terrorist attacks. Designed by Israeli artist Eliezer Weishoff, the memorial is a 30-foot-high bronze sculpture of the American flag that morphs into a memorial flame and includes a metal beam from one of the original World Trade Center towers.
The Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles began delivering flowers to fire stations along with a postcard of the memorial on 9/11 three years ago and last year approached Daniel Friedman, JNF’s L.A. Israel advocacy and education department area director, about expanding the effort.
JNF created a plaque with a photo of the memorial in Israel and this year hosted events in L.A., Baltimore and New York.
“It was a huge honor to be part of a special ceremony to recognize our first responders. [It] shows the amazing bond between the United States and Israel, two countries that have shared values of peace and religious tolerance,” Lou Rosenberg, JNF’s Los Angeles executive director, said in an email.
“I think that so often our first responders are taken for granted. These brave people put their lives on the line every day for the betterment and safety of their communities. So to be able to express our gratitude to these police officers, fire fighters and sheriffs was truly an amazing experience,” Friedman said in the email.
JNF hosted four ceremonies, one in Beverly Hills and three others in L.A. On Sept. 8, Beverly Hills Mayor Lili Bosse, Fire Chief Greg Barton and Police Chief Sandra Spagnoli were presented with the plaque. On Sept. 11, JNF visited the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office, LAPD headquarters and the West Los Angeles LAPD police station, where staff members were presented with the plaque in honor of their service.
Among those at the various events were L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Chief Charlie Beck and Eitan Weiss, deputy chief of mission at the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles.
“Israel has always stood, and will always stand, with the United States of America, just as the United States has always stood with Israel,” Israeli Consul for Public Diplomacy Karin Eliyahu-Pery said in an email. “Like true friends and allies, we come together in celebration of good moments and also on occasions of terrible sadness, such as today.”
— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer
A panel discussion on Sept. 6 titled, “Israeliness: A Strategic Asset for the American Jewish Future?” featured Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Israeli American Council (IAC) Chairman Adam Milstein and Jewish Journal President David Suissa.
Approximately 80 people gathered at the IAC Shepher Community Center in Woodland Hills for the discussion, which also centered on the future of the Israeli-American community.
Feinstein expressed a fear that the next Israeli-American generation will have no ties to Israel and to Judaism.
“Here is my problem: In 20 years, whatever ‘Israeliness’ is will disappear,” he said. “They might eat falafel once in a while, might speak a little Hebrew, but that’s it. Israeliness is something that is based on memories that your children don’t have, so unless you do something about it, it will be Little Italy all over again.”
Milstein said the IAC was established by Israelis in part to keep the next generations of Israelis in America connected to their roots and to the essence and culture of Israel. He said membership in synagogues can be expensive and Israeli Americans who cannot afford the high cost have other options to feel connected to their Jewish heritage and maintain their connection to Israel.
“We see increasingly more Jewish Americans participate in our programs,” he said. “They love our Israeli culture and are delighted to discover many new ways to enhance their connection to Judaism and the State of Israel.”
— Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer
The American Jewish World Service (AJWS) has named two local rabbis, Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom and Andrew Feig of Alice and Nahum Lainer School, as Global Justice Fellows for 2017-18.
They are among 14 rabbis selected from across the country by AJWS, which promotes human rights and combats poverty in developing nations.
The six-month fellowship will begin in October and include a weeklong trip to Guatemala in January, when the rabbis will meet with leaders in the fight against poverty and the advancement of human rights. They will continue their advocacy work during a trip to Washington, D.C., focusing on laws and policies promoting human rights.
“Rabbi Farkas has been supporting progressive values in the L.A. area for years, with his leadership with RiseUp LA and many other initiatives,” said Lilach Shafir, AJWS director of international education and Jewish engagement. “We are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him again, at this intense level. Rabbi Andrew Feig is a community organizer and a leader in the interfaith field in L.A., and he brings a social justice perspective to bear on all of his work as a school rabbi in L.A.”
In addition to his work with VBS, Farkas launched the Seminary Leadership Project, which has trained Jewish clergy to create social change through JOIN for Justice, and he is the founder of Netiya, an interfaith organization that works on food issues in Los Angeles. In 2015, Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl appointed Farkas to the Los Angeles Homelessness Services Authority, which oversees the regional strategy against homelessness.
Feig teaches in Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s teacher preparation program, DeLeT, where he mentors student teachers both in and out of Alice and Nahum Lainer School, an L.A. Jewish day school. He previously worked at Milken Community Schools, where he was dean of students and a rabbinics teacher.
“I am very honored to be part of AJWS’ Global Justice Fellowship,” Feig said. “As school rabbi of Alice and Nahum Lainer School, my goal is to integrate the work of combining AJWS’ work with our school’s mission of developing students who recognize the dignity of every human being and have agency to stand against injustice.”
— Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer
More than 300 people gathered on Sept. 10 at Temple Beth Am to hear Rabbi Naomi Levy, leader of Brentwood-based spiritual community Nashuva, discuss her latest book, “Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul.”
The title of the book, Levy’s fourth, refers to a kind of mystery story that runs throughout the work after she found her way to an obscure letter whose author turned out to be Albert Einstein: “A human being … experiences himself … as something separate from the rest,” the great scientist wrote. “The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion.” The letter inspired Levy to play the role of detective, eventually revealing a path to the soul.
The event was the first time Levy had ever been interviewed in public by her husband, Rob Eshman, the outgoing editor-in-chief and publisher of the Jewish Journal. Their conversation was filled with humor and soulful contemplation, including stories of Levy’s journey to writing the book and of the couple’s life together.
Eshman recounted that one of the messages of the book — that “the soul is tugging at us, telling us to grow, grow” — influenced his decision to step down from his role at the Journal.
“It’s your fault,” he told his wife.
“Don’t blame me,” she said.
Adding to the discussion of the soul, Levy and Eshman talked about the concept of soul mates. They recounted their first meeting nearly three decades ago, when Levy was a new rabbi at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice and Eshman was a freelance writer.
If there had been online dating, they likely would have been a “mismatch,” according to Levy. However, during their first date — tea at Rose Café in Venice — “I knew I was home,” Levy said.
After Eshman cooked her an elaborate homemade meal for the first time, she said, “I didn’t know I was home; I knew I was in the Garden of Eden and I’ve never left.”
— Julia Moss, Jewish Journal Staff
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