Synagogues, Temples and Shuls

As Shabbat ebbs next week, try Young Israel ofCentury City for something a little sexy — namely, a lecture on “TheFacts of Life: How to Teach Yeshiva Students,” led by Rabbi Baruchand Michal Finkelstein.

While many parents feel uncomfortable discussingsex with their children, the Finkelsteins believe that it isessential to bring Jewish values and context into a conversation thatis happening anyway.

“It’s important to realize that if children aregetting exposed to different things in the media or the movies, orpolitically in our society, we need to address it. We can’t justignore it and hope nothing happens,” says Michal Finkelstein, anauthor, registered nurse and professional midwife who, with herhusband, is crafting a sex-ed curriculum for Jewish dayschools.

Finkelstein says holding the lecture at a shul onShabbat — suggested by YICC’s Rabbi Elazar Muskin — might helppeople feel more at ease discussing the topic.

“Parents need to sit down with their children andhave a discussion, have a conversation,” she says. “That canalleviate tension, and it gives kids an address of where to go forguidance. Sure, they can go to a rabbi, or a teacher, but it’s easierto start at home.”

Saturday, Feb. 21, 5:30 p.m., Young Israel ofCentury City, 9317 W. Pico Blvd., (310) 273-6954.

Into the 21st Century

What should synagogues look like in the nextcentury? A lot like they did in the last century — a central addressfor a spiritual community, intimate, passionate and personal, a placefor living and learning within a tight belief structure.

Those are some of the preliminary findings ofSynagogue 2000, a two-year experimental study sponsored by the Reformand Conservative movements.

Both intellectual goals and practical programswill be the focus of “Synagogue Life: Challenges for the 21stCentury,” the Ahavat-Torah study day sponsored by the PacificSouthwest Branch Women’s League for Conservative Judaism, Thursday,Feb. 19, at the University of Judaism.

Rabbi Ronald Shulman, whose Congregation Ner Tamidof South Bay is one of 16 synagogues nationwide participating inSynagogue 2000, will deliver the keynote address.

In a sneak preview of his talk, Rabbi Shulman toldThe Jewish Journal that he would like to see the synagogue foster acommunity not of consumers but of “adherents,” where “membership doesnot have to do with affiliation per se, but is much more about whatare the gifts that you as an individual can offer to thecommunity.”

One way Ner Tamid, a Conservative congregation of600 families, achieves that is through approaching membership in analmost unheard of manner.

“When you come to our congregation, you join notthrough payment of dues, first and foremost; it’s not a financialrelationship,” Shulman said. “The first relationship is one oflearning and bonding with others. Come in and get involved inprograms, meet people to discover Jewish passions and journeys,connect with others who have similar needs, and be integrated intoour community.”

Another simple and effective program to impact theambience and quality of the prayer experience: the Shalom Squad.Synagogue members station themselves strategically and discretelythroughout the synagogue — at the front door, at the entrance to thesanctuary, scattered throughout the seats — making sure eachworshiper feels welcome and comfortable.

“This is something every congregation has withinits own resources to do in practical and simple and human terms,”Shulman says. “And the difference it makes is incredible.”

Thursday, Feb. 19, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., University ofJudaism, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. For cost and moreinformation, call (310) 476-5359.

Bar Mitzvah Caftan, Bokhara, 19thc.

Photo from “Jewish Art,” courtesy ofthe Skirball Cultural Center

Easing Bar Mitzvah Blues

When an unsuspecting preteen blows out the 12candles sunk into the birthday cake, vague but frightening imagesbegin to float before a parent’s eyes. Photographers. Hebrew school.Torah reading and speeches. Caterers. And lots and lots of fountainpens.

In an attempt to take the oy out of bar mitzvah,Rabbi Stewart Vogel’s Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills holds an annualfair entitled “Everything You Wanted to Know About B’nai Mitzvah ButWere Afraid to Ask.”

“It allows parents to meet each other in a commonenvironment and share their anxiety,” says Temple Aliyah Cantor GaryShapiro, who runs the b’nai mitzvah program.

Shapiro says the congregation holds about 60 barand bat mitzvahs a year — often having to double up on a particularShabbat — thanks to an influx of young families in the last fiveyears.

The meeting will include representatives of allaspects of the b’nai mitzvah year — from ritual training to cateringto photography.

And if that doesn’t grab you, it’s worth comingjust for the dessert reception by Starlite catering, Shapiro says.”They put out quite an impressive spread.”

Thursday, Feb. 19, 7:30 p.m., Temple Aliyah,6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills, (818)346-3545. *