Honoring Community Mitzvahs

Top, left to right, Ilana Weinberg, Larry Weinberg, MarkBorovitz and Barbi Weinberg. Above right, Pauline Ledeen. Above left,Audrey Irmas.

September is awards season in Los Angeles. Evenbefore the Emmys were handed out last weekend, the Jewish FederationCouncil of Greater Los Angeles honored six members of the community,a new arts gallery and its board, and a service program.

The 1997 Community Awards, which recognize outstanding achievementin the Jewish community, were given out during a special meeting ofthe Federation’s board of directors at Sephardic Temple TiferethIsrael.

For only the second time in 20 years, a special award for”outstanding community service” was presented. It went to PaulineLedeen, who began as a volunteer with the Jewish Committee forPersonal Service, the agency that created Gateways Hospital andMental Health Center and, today, is part of Gateways. Ledeen, wholater became an employee of JCPS, has been visiting Jewish men andwomen in county, state and federal prisons for more than 50 years.These days, Ledeen, still indefatigable at 87, spends at least twodays a week, checking computer printouts, looking for Jewish names,visiting Jewish prisoners, keeping the jail staff informed ofupcoming Jewish holidays, and generally looking after the needs ofJewish inmates.

Her offices are located at Gateways Beit T’Shuvah, a halfway housein the Westlake district of Los Angeles (216 S. Lake St.) establishedby JCPS for recovering Jewish offenders. Most are striving toovercome drug, alcohol, gambling and other addictions, and many haveLedeen to thank for being at Beit T’Shuvah.

Though pleased to receive the award, Ledeen said she was sad thatthe achievements of Lou Ziskind, whom she credited with startingGateways in 1953, weren’t recognized as well.

Mark Borovitz, one of the many people rescued by Ledeen during hercareer, was also honored at the Federation event; he received theBarbi Weinberg Chai Award — created by Larry Weinberg to honor hiswife Barbi, a past Federation president. The award, which carries astipend of $1,800, is given to an individual who has made anoutstanding contribution to the enhancement and appreciation ofJewish values.

Ledeen first met Borovitz in prison. “When I came to visit him asecond time, I told him: ‘This is no place for a nice Jewish boy. Youdon’t have to live like this,'” she said. Ledeen suggested that hetalk to the rabbi who served the prison, Mel Silverman. Later,Borovitz served as the rabbi’s clerk, rediscovering his passion forJudaism. After being released on work furlough, he accepted an offerfrom Beit T’Shuvah Director Harriet Rossetto to run the thrift shop.

At Beit T’Shuvah, Borovitz created a 12-step program that usesJewish values as the base, and he started a Torah-study class for theresidents. The Jewish education and outreach director for BeitT’Shuvah, he is currently a rabbinical student at the University ofJudaism.

“This was an honor that was well beyond any experience that I’veever had,” Borovitz said of the award. “It recognized my own personaljourney…and the whole Jewish community that has helped me go frombeing a criminal 10 years ago in state prison to being honored withthe Barbi Weinberg Award.”

Other awards and recipients included:

  • The Lifetime of Broad Service Award — given to Audrey Irmas and her late husband, Sydney. Longtime contributors to the Jewish community, the Irmases contributed, in 1991, one of the largest gifts to the Federation’s Operation Exodus campaign, which helped fund the huge aliyah of Jews from the former Soviet Union. Syd, who chaired the United Jewish Fund campaign in 1979, was finance chair in 1994, when resolving complex claims that arose from the Northridge earthquake became a priority for the Federation. The Irmas Charitable Foundation is also funding a large portion of the new Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, currently under construction.

  • Isaiah Award — presented to Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles for creating the Citizenship Assistance Program as a response to federal welfare reform legislation, which threatened to eliminate benefits for legal immigrants who weren’t citizens. JFS opened three centers, staffed by trained volunteers, to help refugees and immigrants prepare for the naturalization process.

  • The Jeremiah Award — given to Marcie Kaufman and Lisa Goodgame, USC students who became involved with the second annual student art exhibit at the Hillel Art Gallery. The project inspired USC Hillel to form a permanent arts and culture committee, composed of students, staff and volunteers.

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  • The Micah Award — presented to Marcia Reines Josephy, acting director of the Martyrs Memorial and Museum of the Holocaust and curator of the Federation’s Pauline Hirsh Gallery. Josephy served as the catalyst in bringing “Terezin: Then and Now” to the Martyrs Memorial and Museum gallery.

  • The Cultural Arts Award — given to the “Witness and Legacy” exhibition of contemporary art about the Holocaust, which had its only West Coast showing earlier this year at the Finegood Art Gallery of the Bernard Milken Jewish community Campus in West Hills. Federation/Valley Alliance Executive Director Jack Mayer and the Finegood Art Council Board of the Valley Alliance raised funds and oversaw the extensive construction needed to house the art.

  • The Ezra Award — presented to Dr. Lee Bycel, former dean of Hebrew Union College and immediate past president of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. Bycel helped implement a program that allows HUC students to intern at South Central Los Angeles social agencies and minority students to become involved in the Jewish community.