Community Briefs

Mazon Pledges Funds to Sudan

Two Jewish groups have joined forces to try to save the lives of sickly, starving Sudanese refugees fleeing from government-sanctioned brutality.

Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger and the Jewish Coalition for Sudan Relief have pledged $25,000 apiece to provide emergency medical care, food and nutritional information to displaced refugees living in camps in Chad and in the western Darfur region of Sudan.

Rabbi Lee Bycel, a Mazon board member and former president of the Brandeis-Bardin Institute, will serve as emissary for the two Jewish groups. Bycel plans to spend Yom Kippur in Chad to bring attention to the plight of the nearly 200,000 Sudanese refuges have fled there over the past 18 months.

“On this fast day of ours, I will fast with people who do not fast by choice, who may never ‘break the fast,'” Bycel said in a statement. The rabbi himself said he personally wants to raise $75,000 for relief efforts, in addition to the Mazon and Jewish Coalition money.

The Bush administration recently declared that Sudanese troops and militias had committed genocide against non-Arab villagers in Darfur. The United Nations estimates that 50,000 blacks have died and 1.2 million made homeless by government attacks on Darfur villagers since a rebellion broke out there in early 2003.

Mazon has contributed more than $31 million since 1986 to anti-hunger organizations, and to advocacy groups working to aid needy families and at-risk children around the world.

Donations for Sudanese refugees can be sent to Mazon, 1990 S. Bundy Drive, Suite 260, Los Angeles, CA 90025. Checks should be made payable to Mazon. — Marc Ballon, Senior Writer

VBS’ Feinstein Takes Over as SeniorRabbi

If Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) gave its rabbis titles, like assistant or associate or senior — which it doesn’t — Rabbi Harold Schulweis would likely have been called senior rabbi for the last 35 years, since he set the direction and the vision for the Conservative congregation in Encino

Now that Schulweis, 79, has passed those responsibilities on to Rabbi Ed Feinstein, Feinstein would, in theory, get the addendum of “senior.”

“If two people like each other and appreciate each other, there are no questions about who is No. 1 and who is No. 1. That is silly kind of talk,” Schulweis said.

At the same time, the reality of there being one person at the helm is not something the shul ignores. Schulweis felt the time was right to let Feinstein, who is widely beloved and admired by the congregation, take that step up. He will be officially installed this spring.

“The policy, the directions and the projects will be in his hands, and he will have the first vote,” Schulweis said. “He is 51, and I am in relatively good health, and there is no reason for him to not have the challenges and joys of being senior rabbi.”

Schulweis says he will continue with all of the same duties, and that his interaction with congregants will not change. He is not retiring, nor is he taking on the title of emeritus.

Feinstein, who has been with VBS for 11 years, looks forward to shifting the relationship with his mentor and his congregants.

“Rabbi Schulweis has given me a congregation and a community with learning at its center, and I will protect and preserve and enhance that,” Feinstein said. “We will also be working harder this year on prayer, on social action and on community building.”

The congregation, the board and the other rabbis are all excited about the change, since it provided a way to keep both Feinstein and Schulweis as integral parts of the community.

Feinstein himself has no illusions about what the change means.

“I’m going to get a lot older a lot faster,” he quipped. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Kushner to Pen Spielberg Munich Pic

Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) is writing a new screenplay for Steven Spielberg’s film on the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics, focusing on the hunt for the Black September terrorists who took the Israeli team hostage.

Production of the film has been postponed to June 2005 from an earlier scheduled start of June 2004.

Marvin Levy, Spielberg’s spokesman, denied a New York Post report that the postponement was based on fears that Muslim extremists might target the locations to be used in the movie. He also denied that “Vengeance” had been chosen as the film’s title.

Instead, the delay is mainly due to Spielberg’s dissatisfaction with the first draft of the script, submitted by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”).

The only cast member announced so far is Australian actor Eric Bana (“Troy,” “Hulk”). Spielberg had also hoped to cast Ben Kingsley, with whom he collaborated in “Schindler’s List,” but Kingsley will be unavailable at the new starting date.

The tragedy of the Munich Olympics, in which the terrorists easily infiltrated the Olympic Village, resulted in the death of 11 Israeli athletes. Two were killed immediately by the terrorists, and nine died in a bungled attempt by German police to free the remaining hostages.

Spielberg has said that his Jewish heritage took on a new dimension while making “Schindler’s List.” The Shoah Foundation, which he established 11 years ago, has since videotaped the testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

The documentary “One Day in September,” on the Munich Olympics, won an Oscar in 2000 for Swiss producer Arthur Cohn. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Outreach Service Offers Alternative

With many Jews feeling dissatisfied over the cost of High Holiday tickets and unfulfilled by holiday services, the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) is offering free or low-cost explanatory “Beginners Services” nationwide — and the Southland is no exception. In a recent NJOP poll, more than 50 percent of respondents said that High Holiday services are either too long, boring, repetitive or not relevant. Moneywise, nearly 70 percent felt that the cost of High Holiday tickets was either too high, unwarranted, a turnoff or should be reconsidered.

Since 1990, the NJOP has offered free or low-cost High Holiday Beginners Services that are open to Jews of all backgrounds and levels of observance. Billed as the “High Holiday service for those who aren’t so high on the holidays,” many of these alternative services include abundant explanations, opportunities to ask questions, easy-to-learn melodies and numerous English readings.

“If we want people with little or no synagogue experience to be inspired by the holidays, we have to offer meaningful encounters that are inviting, uplifting, non-judgmental, and even fun,” says Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald, founder and director of the New York-based NJOP. “I am proud to say that NJOP’s Beginners Services have had a tremendous impact on tens of thousands of Jews, strengthening their connections to Judaism and Jewish life.”For more information, contact Aish HaTorah at (310) 278-8672, ext. 703; The Westwood Kehilla at (310) 441-5289; Calabasas Shul at (818) 591-7485; or visit — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Contributing Writer

Jewish Community FoundationAwardees

The Jewish Community Foundation awarded last month grants totaling nearly $453,000 to support innovative programming at 16 Jewish organizations.

“We want to encourage nonprofit agencies to develop cutting-edge projects,” Foundation Chief Executive Marvin I. Schotland said in a release.

Among grant recipients: