Top row, from left: Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) President Mark Berns, BJE honoree Keren Dunn, BJE gala co-chair Rena Slomovic, BJE honoree Bennett Spiegel and BJE Executive Director Gil Graff. Bottom row, from left: gala co-chair Jennifer Elad, honorees Jerry and Jean Friedman and gala co-chair Jill Lasker. Photo courtesy of Builders of Jewish Education

Moving & Shaking: Camp Ramah Celebrates ‘Miracle’ of Surviving Fires


The Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) culminated its 80th anniversary celebration with its 2018 gala on Jan. 16 at Sinai Temple’s Barad Hall.

The event honored Jean and Jerry Friedman, who served on the BJE board from 1982–2004, and Bennett Spiegel, who has served on the board for 16 years, for their “decades of service to Jewish education and the community,” according to the BJE website. Keren Dunn, another board member, was recognized with BJE’s prestigious Young Leadership Award.

“We believe BJE is so important, because through its programs, it facilitates both formal and informal Jewish education,” the Friedmans said in a joint statement. “That combination is the best way to preserve Jewish community.”

Spiegel expressed his respect for the “the mission of BJE to enhance the quality of, increase access to, and encourage participation in Jewish education in Los Angeles.”

Dunn’s children have participated in BJE programming. She credited the organization with giving her son “exposure to hands-on community service and tying the experience to Jewish teachings.”

Rena Slomovic, Jill Lasker and Jennifer Elad co-chaired the event. Mark Goldenberg served as the emcee. Additional attendees included BJE President Mark Berns and BJE Executive Director Gil Graff.

Established in 1937, BJE describes itself as “an independent nonprofit serving the greater Los Angeles area. BJE provides programs and activities that connect families and children to a broad range of Jewish educational opportunities.”  The organization facilitates, among other things, teen experiential education, including the BJE March of the Living program, which sends delegations of Jewish teens to Poland and Israel.

“This is the 80th anniversary celebration of BJE and I am honored to play a role in that celebration,” Dunn said, “as BJE focuses on the past and future dedication of Jewish education in Los Angeles.”

Camp Ramah Executive Director Joe Menashe dedicated a sign to the firefighters who fought off the recent Thomas Fire, a disaster that prompted Ramah to remove its Torahs for safekeeping. Photo courtesy of Camp Ramah

Camp Ramah in Ojai celebrated the return of its five Torahs on Jan. 7 after they were removed for safekeeping during the recent Ventura County wildfire.

Though it wasn’t directly affected by the fire, the Conservative summer camp had a mandatory evacuation on Dec. 7.

Exactly one month later, more than 300 volunteers gathered to fill sandbags, write thank-you notes and bake cookies for firefighters, reshelve siddurim and plant trees.

“From the Ramah Beit Knesset, where we returned the Torah, we went to the area where the firefighters fought off the fire,” said Ramah Associate Director Ariella Moss Peterseil. “We dedicated a sign to them and their bravery and courage, which will remain on our campgrounds and remind us of this personal Hanukkah miracle we had in that place. It truly was the best of Ramah and Judaism: Being able to acknowledge what we are grateful for, with a Jewish ritual, and then launching into action.”

Executive Director Rabbi Joe Menashe shared a story about how a tree that has a sign that reads “ze hashar lashem tzadikim yavo uv” (This is the gate of the Lord, and the righteous shall pass through it) was only slightly burned, and that the camp had many “righteous people” in the firefighters and first responders who saved the camp.

Board chair Andrew I. Spitzer called the celebration a “true and sacred partnership between man and God.”

Virginia Isaad, Contributing Writer

From left: TELACU President and CEO Michael Lizarraga, songwriter Melissa Manchester, journalist and television host Jackeline Cacho, U.S. Congressman Juan Vargas and Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles Sam Grundwerg attended the fifth annual Fiesta Shalom. Photo by Michal Mivzari

Jewish and Hispanic community leaders gathered on Jan. 14 at Tomayo Restaurant and Art Gallery in East Los Angeles for the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles’ fifth annual Fiesta Shalom celebration.

Consul General Sam Grundwerg, whose office has long been concerned with strengthening Jewish-Latino relations, hosted the festive evening along with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and TELACU President and CEO Michael Lizarraga.

The event honored U.S. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-San Diego) and Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Melissa Manchester for their visionary leadership and roles as inspirational figures in their respective fields.

Jackeline Cacho, Emmy Award-winning journalist and television host, emceed the evening event, during which several members of Congress spoke, including Vargas and Reps. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and Grace Napolitano (D-Norwalk). Together, they discussed the multitude of similarities, shared values and shared interests between both communities and their vast areas of cooperation.

“The family values, beliefs and rich cultures that the Latino community upholds align with the values that the Israeli people hold dear,” Grundwerg said. “In the last century, we witnessed the great and abiding friendship between the Jewish people and Spanish-speaking peoples.”

The event featured a kosher-style dinner and music performed by the salsa band Orquesta Tabaco y Ron. More than 200 guests danced, networked and celebrated the strong bonds between the communities in the United States, and the desire to maintain their distinctive and diverse cultural identities working in solidarity and support of each other.

Ayala Or-El, Contributing Writer

Members of the third cohort of the The First 36 Project, which supports parents of children ages 0-3, attended a reception held at the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

A reception was held on Jan. 18 at the headquarters of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for its The First 36 Project.

“The First 36 Project is a groundbreaking program that connects families with Jewish community and helps them put cutting-edge development research directly into practice, precisely when experts say it matters most — from the start,” a Federation statement said. “Developed by the Simms/Mann Institute, Builders of Jewish Education (BJE) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, The First 36 Project provides Parent and Me facilitators at our Jewish Early Childhood Centers with an exclusive professional development opportunity designed to enhance their knowledge and amplify their ability to support parents of children ages 0–3.”

The dessert reception featured remarks by Federation CEO Jay Sanderson, BJE Associate Director Phil Liff-Grieff, and Victoria Simms, a nationally recognized child development specialist and the president of the Simms/Mann Family Foundation.

The evening event also marked the graduation of the second cohort of The First 36 Project and welcomed the third group to the program. Participants of the second cohort included, among others, Emily Glickman of Leo Baeck Temple, Wise School’s Nicole Mevorak, Debbie Myman and Jenna Pitson, and Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Molly Mills. Other participating schools include Yeshiva Aharon Yaakov-Ohr Eliyahu, Harkham Hillel Academy and Valley Beth Shalom.

The first cohort launched in 2015-2016.

B’nai David-Judea honored (from left) Rae and Shep Drazin, Emil and Lola Sassover and Andres Terech and Nikki Sieger at its annual gala dinner. Photo courtesy of B’nai David-Judea

The B’nai David-Judea (BDJ) annual dinner on Jan. 15 honored Lola and Emil Sassover, Rae and Shep Drazin, and Nikki Sieger and Andres Terech.

The Sassovers received the Tiferet David award in recognition of “a lifetime of commitment to the Jewish community.” The Drazins, Migdal David honorees, “were honored for their commitment to men and women’s tefilah and Torah study.” Sieger and Terech, who received the Chasdei David award, “were honored for their commitment to service for the BDJ community, including organizing the Purim Mishloach Manot every year and leading the once-a-month BDJ East Minyan,” said a statement provided by BDJ executive director Adynna Swarz.

Approximately 275 people attended the event, which was held at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills and coincided with Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Among the highlights of the evening was when the Sassovers’ grandchildren read excerpts from the couple’s newly published memoir,  “From Dust to Dawn, Rebuilding Our Lives After the Holocaust,” which was authored by former Jewish Journal senior writer Julie Fax.

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