Community Briefs

Birthright Plans to Send 1,000 toIsrael

Birthright Israel hopes to send 1,000 participants this winter despite violence in the Middle East. The program has sent 300,000 students to Israel in the past 21¼2 years. In a media conference call with the North American Jewish press, Rabbi Michael Melchior, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs and chairman of the Birthright Israel steering committee, called upon all organizations associated with people in Birthright’s specified age category (18-26) to assist the program in promoting the winter campaign. “They are the ones who can make Birthright Israel the success it has been,” Melchior said.

He also encouraged parents to call Birthright and voice all questions and concerns regarding safety. He ensured that the program is taking the most rigorous safety measures, such as no use of public transportation, using El Al as the program’s only airline, and constantly having itineraries checked, changed and approved by Israeli security agencies. “I feel that we have done the absolute maximum to ensure the safety of the students,” Melchior said, “we wouldn’t bring the students if we didn’t feel absolutely certain.”

However, while overall number of participants on the Birthright Israel program increased in 2002 from the previous year, the number of participants from North America has fallen. Melchior partially attributes the decline to Sept. 11, which he said had a major effect on American parents and their willingness to allow their children to travel. Nevertheless, Melchior is very hopeful about the year to come. “The year ends with all tragedies and problems and the new year will begin with only blessings,” he said. — Rachel Brand, Contributing Writer

Race for Suicide Prevention

It may not be a run for your life. But it is a race to save the lives of others.

On Sept. 22, the Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center will hold its Fifth Annual “Alive & Running 5K/10K Walk/Run” to benefit its Suicide Prevention Center. Actor Dan Butler (“Frasier”), a suicide prevention hotline volunteer, will emcee the marathon. Honorary chairperson Lily Tomlin will present awards. The event will also feature a health/fitness expo with free giveaways.

According to Dr. Jay Nagdimon, director of Emergency Services/Suicide Prevention Center at Didi Hirsch, “The Jewish religion has relatively less suicide than some of the other cultures. One of the theories is the idea of a strong cultural Jewish identity. Even though religion doesn’t always play a role, they feel more connected, they follow events in Israel.”

Contrary to popular belief though, “crisis hotlines are not usually busier during the holidays, although this Labor Day was unusually busy,” he said.

There are currently 100 volunteers on-hand — 24 hours a day, seven days a week — to field 16,000 calls a year. But the Suicide Prevention Center always welcomes more volunteers. “Hope exists within all suicidal people,” Nagdimon said, “because the very nature of suicide is ambivalence. It’s the reason why crisis lines work.”

Founded in 1942 as Los Angeles Psychiatric Service, the facility was renamed in honor of board member/supporter Didi Hirsch, who with husband King Hirsch, provided seed money for the current building. Proceeds from the race will go toward the Suicide Prevention Center’s Minority Outreach Program, in addition to the center’s volunteer-staffed suicide prevention hotline.

For registration information for the Alive and Running 5K/10K Walk/Run to benefit the Suicide Prevention Center of Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center on Sun., Sept. 22, contact Louis at (310) 751-5373 or visit

For more information on the Suicide Prevention Center’s Minority Outreach Program, call (310) 390-6612. — Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Israelis and Latinos on CommonGround

Members of the Latino and Jewish communities gathered at Loyola Marymount University on Sept. 9 to explore and compare the effects of Latino immigration to the United States with those who choose to make aliyah. The conference, “To the Promised Land: Immigrants in California and Israel,” was an effort to encourage dialogue between the two communities regarding the economic, political, cultural and demographic ramifications of such migration, and compare the ways in which immigrants are viewed and accepted in Israel and California. Speakers discussed the Israeli government’s willingness to assist its immigrants financially and the welcoming attitude that it puts forth, a result of the fundamental principles on which the country was founded.

“To a large degree, both Latinos and Jews in this community have been shaped by their experiences as immigrants, while we in Israel are nothing less than a nation of immigrants,” said Consul General of Israel Yuval Rotem. “Because of our nation’s intimate experience with the role of immigration in building a strong and diverse society, we believe that Israel’s example might be instructive to you.”

The American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Western Regional Director Rabbi Gary Greenebaum posed the question: “How can we make the United States as welcoming to its immigrants as Israel is to hers?”

Participants partook in one of four Working Group Sessions including, “The Challenge of Diversity: Identity, Assimilation and Acculturation,” “The Politics of Absorption: Immigration Policy & Practice,” “The Mechanisms of Absorption: The Role of the State in Processing Immigrants” and “The Bottom Line: Patterns and Changes in Immigrant Societies.” The event was co-sponsored by the Consulate General of Israel in Los Angeles, the Loyola Marymount University Center for the Study of Los Angeles and the AJC. — R.B.